Page last updated at 03:58 GMT, Friday, 29 May 2009 04:58 UK

Child rapists 'avoiding prison'

Boy sitting on stairs
Pressure to avoid prison overcrowding puts children at risk, say the Tories

Six convicted child rapists were not sent to jail in 2007, according to Ministry of Justice statistics.

Two paedophiles were given suspended sentences for sex attacks on children under 13, while four other offenders were given community sentences.

Shadow justice secretary Dominic Grieve said Labour was pressing judges not to jail offenders because of overcrowding.

The government says it requires courts to consider indeterminate jail terms for all serious offenders.

The figures - released to Mr Grieve in written Parliamentary answers - show that, of 69 convicted rapists, 63 were jailed immediately during 2007.

Sentencing guidelines are clear that custody would be the starting point where the offence involved non-consensual sexual touching
Ministry of Justice

Mr Grieve said it meant dangerous offenders were "cheating justice".

"It is hard to think of any circumstances where an adult who rapes a young child should avoid jail," he said.

"Labour have pressurised judges to use community sentences inappropriately because the prisons are full, but the result is that dangerous offenders cheat justice and children are put at risk."

The maximum jail term for anyone found guilty of rape or attempted rape is life imprisonment.

Sentencing guidelines suggest attackers who are older than their victims should receive a substantial prison term.

A non-custodial sentence should only be given out in "exceptional" cases if the offender is a youth, they say.

But in all these cases offenders were aged over 21 and their victims under 13.

'Abhorrent crimes'

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said that sexual assault and rape were "abhorrent crimes" but that it was up to courts to decide sentences in individual cases.

"Sentencing guidelines are clear that custody would be the starting point where the offence involved non-consensual sexual touching," he said.

"In addition, the government introduced indeterminate sentences in 2005 to ensure serious dangerous sexual offenders could be kept in prison until they no longer pose a threat to society."

Guidelines dictated that such sentences must be considered for all serious sexual offences, he added.

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