October 2016

Man (27) who had sex with schoolgirl avoids jail after top judges ruled he deserved “compassion”

An Okehampton man who had sex with a 14-year-old girl has avoided jail for a second time after top judges ruled he deserved “compassion”.

Gary Alan Richard Howard, 27, of Turpins Plot, was given a two-year suspended jail term at Exeter Crown Court on August 15.

But the Attorney-General, Jeremy Wright QC, argued that was far too soft and urged Appeal Court judges to lock him up.

Refusing to jail him, however, the judges pointed to his low IQ, his own vulnerability and previous good character.

Howard met the schoolgirl in a park and was aware that she was 14, Lady Justice Sharp told the London court.

They exchanged ‘many thousands of messages’ with each other over social media and had sex three times.

She consented but ‘found the acts painful and uncomfortable’.

Howard ‘scratched her and bit her during one such encounter’, said the judge.

He admitted three counts of sexual activity with a child but was allowed to walk free by the Crown Court judge.

A psychologist’s report said that Howard has a diagnosis of ADHD and suspected traits of autistic spectrum disorder.

He suffers from depression and has a ‘history of intentional self-harm and suicidal thoughts’.

And the judge who sentenced him took the view that Howard and his victim’s ‘mental ages were much closer than their chronological ages’.

Paul Jarvis, for the Attorney-General, told the Appeal Court that a suspended sentence was ‘unduly lenient’.

He pointed to the ‘significant disparity in age’ between Howard and his victim, and that there were ‘three offences committed against this child’.

It was clear from Howard’s police interviews that he ‘knew how old she was, knew it was an offence to have sexual intercourse with her and that, if it ever came to light, he would be in trouble’, added the barrister.

The judge ‘gave too much weight’ to Howard’s learning difficulties, he argued.

Adam Morgan, for Howard, said it was not a case of a sophisticated individual looking to exploit a much younger victim.

That was because of his ‘particular cognitive and intellectual impairment’ which ‘mitigated’ the impact of the age gap.

He would be ‘vulnerable in custody’ and, in the ‘unusual’ circumstances of his case, there were ‘ample reasons’ to suspend his jail term, added Mr Morgan.

The barrister pointed to Howard having no previous convictions and to his remorse.

Lady Justice Sharp, sitting with Mr Justice Nicol and Mr Justice Garnham, rejected the Attorney-General’s bid to jail Howard.

“This offender had severe learning difficulties, a low IQ and a low emotional maturity, all of which were relevant to culpability,” she said.

“He was vulnerable and of previous good character.

“We do not for one moment minimise the serious nature of the offending, or the significance of it for the victim.

“However, we have concluded, just, that while the sentence was a lenient and compassionate one, it was not unduly lenient.”