Page last updated at 15:46 GMT, Monday, 28 April 2008 16:46 UK

Councillor slams rape sentences

by Nuala McCann
BBC News


A team of specialist detectives is working on the case

Current jail sentences for rapists amount to little more than "a slap on the wrist," the chairman of Belfast City Council's parks committee said.

Bob Stoker has called on the judiciary to consider tougher penalties.

He was speaking following the rape of an 18-year-old girl in Botanic Gardens, south Belfast, at the weekend.

A team of specialist detectives is working on the case. Mr Stoker called for a joined-up approach to anti-social behaviour, involving police and courts.

The police said in the 11 months from last April to February sexual assaults fell by 3% and also fell by 3% in south Belfast.

Mr Stoker said the council was working hard to improve security in the city's parks.

Roving rangers patrol parks and community safety wardens were in operation, he said.

"From a personal point of view, there does not seem to be a great deterrent for anti-social behaviour or indeed rape," he said.

"The judiciary have a role to play. The sentences that have been handed out seem to be very lenient.

'Slap on the wrist'

"Offenders get a slap on the wrist and jail for seven years and they are out in three and a half years. I would be calling on the judiciary to re-examine this."

Pearl Gray from the Rape Crisis Centre said there had been an increase in the number of young women coming forward to report sexual assaults.

"This is happening a lot more often than we have seen in the past," she said.

"Whether it's because women are coming forward - but we have certainly seen a rise in younger women being attacked."

Detectives want to speak to anyone who was in Botanic Gardens or walking past the Stranmillis Road entrance around the time of the attack.

Police believe they may have seen something that could help them track down the rapist.

On Monday, a police spokesperson said: "We fully understand the concern this incident has caused within the community and treat serious sexual assaults with the utmost seriousness.

"The police service are dedicated to carrying out rigorous and thorough investigations and providing a professional service to victims of rape and sexual assault.

"Police in south Belfast work closely with Belfast City Council and other partner agencies to make the area safer at night for everyone and we will continue to do this. "

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