June 2017

Disbelief after Darlington sex offender who sent photo of himself performing sex act to girl, 12, is released on appeal

CAMPAIGNERS expressed disbelief last night as judges released an 22-year-old sex offender who sent a photo of himself performing a sex act to a 12-year-old girl after they ruled she “agreed to be his online girlfriend”.

Charity the Survivors Trust said the comments by Lord Justice Hamblen in London’s appeal court, as he halved the sentence of Joe Williams, showed a “shocking lack of awareness” about a child’s capacity to make decisions surrounding consent.

And Darlington MP Jenny Chapman said: “It is shocking that a judge could say anything in their remarks that could suggest a victim is responsible. This betrays a lack of understanding of this type of crime that is deeply worrying.”

Joe Williams was aged 18 when he made contact with his young victim, then 12, via social media.

“She agreed to be his online girlfriend,” Lord Justice Hamblen told the appeal court on Thursday.

At first Williams seemed kind and “charming”, he added, showering the girl with compliments.

But Williams, of Penryn Close, later asked her about her sexual experience and sent her a photo of himself performing a sex act.

The now 22-year-old, was locked up for 12 months at Teesside Crown Court in March after he admitted causing a minor to watch a sexual act.

The judge who jailed him said Williams’ behaviour had a traumatic effect on his young victim.

But his lawyers challenged his sentence, citing his remorse, youth, “naivety” and problems with ADHD.

Lord Justice Hamblen allowed the appeal, substituting a suspended sentence.

“We consider there is force in the submissions made on his behalf, ” said the judge, who was sitting with Mrs Justice McGowan and Judge John Wait.

“Although the victim’s personal statement detailed the impact this contact had on her, it was not specifically linked to the single picture sent.”

The court’s ruling means the 12-month sentence will now be suspended for 18 months, enabling Williams’ immediate release.

Last night Fay Maxted, chief executive of the Survivors’ Trust, said: “This shows a shocking lack of awareness by this judge.

“A child has no legal capacity to make any decisions around consent. I think she might grow up feeling that she has been failed by her courts. I will be raising this with the Crown Prosecution Service, who we have regular meetings with.”

Ms Chapman added: “All credit must go to the victim and her mum for reporting this crime. I am surprised that sexual interest in a child of just 12 has been dealt with in this way by the court.

“He needs help to address his behaviour and understand how his actions have affected this brave young girl. Sometimes there seems to be an attitude that offences online are not impactful or damaging. The truth is that these actions can be devastating and the law needs to treat them accordingly.”