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Last Updated: Saturday, 17 June 2006, 01:33 GMT 02:33 UK
Jail row judge's formula 'wrong'
Junior constitutional affairs minister Vera Baird
Vera Baird has criticised Craig Sweeney's jail sentence
A government minister has reignited the debate over the sentencing of serial paedophile Craig Sweeney, saying the judge may have "got his formula wrong".

Sweeney was given 18 years but could be considered for parole after five years.

Junior constitutional affairs minister Vera Baird said the sentence was too short - just days after her boss, the lord chancellor, defended the judge.

The Liberal Democrats said her comments showed the government was "deeply divided" over sentencing issues.

Sweeney, 24, was given a life sentence with an 18-year tariff after he admitted kidnapping a three-year-old girl from her home in Cardiff in January and sexually assaulting her.

This was reduced to 12 years because he pleaded guilty, and further reduced to 11 years to reflect the amount of time he had already spent in jail.

He will be eligible for parole when he has served half of his sentence.

'No right to parole'

Ms Baird told BBC Radio 4's Any Questions that while Sweeney was "not going anywhere for a long time" his sentence "should make people confident of that".

The judge was compelled by the law to reach the conclusion he did in this case
Department of Constitutional Affairs spokesman

She said: "Now it seems to me that this judge has just got this formula wrong, so I'm critical of the judge for three reasons - one, starting too low; two, deducting too much for the guilty plea; and three, getting the formula wrong."

She stressed: "If it's a dangerous individual on a determinate sentence, he doesn't have any right to parole, he can only ask for it in due course."

'Unduly lenient'

Earlier in the week Lord Falconer, the lord chancellor, said it was wrong that judges had become the "whipping boys" over flaws in the sentencing system.

Following Ms Baird's comments, a spokesman for the Department for Constitutional Affairs reiterated that Lord Falconer had made his position "entirely clear".

"The judge was compelled by the law to reach the conclusion he did in this case. That is why there needs to be a review of the sentencing framework," the spokesman said.

Judge John Griffith Williams QC sentenced Sweeney earlier this week at Cardiff Crown Court.

Home Secretary John Reid has described Sweeney's sentence as "unduly lenient" and said he would be writing to Attorney General Lord Goldsmith to ask him to consider referring the case to the Court of Appeal.

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