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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 October, 2003, 12:24 GMT 13:24 UK
Sex law changes imminent
Crying girl
The new sex offences law will increase some sentences
A paedophile who used the internet to groom two girls for sex has had his sentence increased by the Court of Appeal.

Because of legal anomalies, Michael Wheeler had originally been given only three years in jail - but new legislation due to come into effect within a few months will allow a maximum sentence of 14 years.

As the law currently stands, the maximum sentence for unlawful sexual intercourse with a girl under 13 is life

But for having sex with a girl aged 13 to 16 (the lawful age of consent) it is just two years.

The girls groomed over the internet by Wheeler were 13 when he had sex with them, so the judge had a maximum of two years at his disposal.

In this case, he sentenced Wheeler to 15 months for each charge.

Police believe Wheeler knew about the crucial sentencing change at 13 and deliberately waited until his victims turned 13 to make his move.

Judge Philip Curl could have sentenced Wheeler to a maximum of 10 years for any of the six other counts of indecent assault on a minor, but chose - because of Wheeler's remorse and guilty plea - to hand down three months for each charge.

Next to murder I think this sort of crime is the worst that you can do
Michele Elliot
Kidscape

The Crown Prosecution Service appealed against the "unduly lenient" sentences for the indecent assaults and Appeal Court judges have now increased the sentence to seven years - four-and-a-half to be spent in jail.

However, a change in the law is imminent which will make sentencing in future such cases more robust.

The Sexual Offences Bill, launched in January, is still making its way through Parliament.

It contains a raft of new measures which amount to the first radical overhaul of sex laws for 50 years.

Among them is the new crime of grooming - adults befriending children with the intention of abusing them will face five years in jail.

And sentencing for unlawful sex with a minor - whatever the age - will be much tougher.

Mandatory treatment

The maximum sentence for unlawful sexual intercourse with an under-16 will be 14 years.

The charity Kidscape, one of the groups which has been lobbying the government for tougher sentences for child abuse, said Wheeler's original sentence was "ludicrous".

Kidscape spokeswoman Michele Elliot said: "You can go to prison for a much longer period of time if you burgle a house, take cars or are involved in drugs.

"Those are all horrible but next to murder I think this sort of crime is the worst that you can do."

The charity says the Sexual Offences Bill should go further.

It wants the sentence for paedophiles who have unlawful sex with minors to range from a minimum of 10 years to a maximum of life.

It also wants the law to state they should receive mandatory treatment in jail.




SEE ALSO:
Man jailed for 'grooming' girls
06 Jun 03  |  Cambridgeshire
Online child abuse revealed
27 May 03  |  Northern Ireland
'I was groomed online'
06 Feb 03  |  UK News
Online child safety drive launched
06 Jan 03  |  UK News
The threat of the net
06 Jan 03  |  UK News
Q&A: Keeping safe on the net
06 Jan 03  |  Technology


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