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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 July 2006, 16:37 GMT 17:37 UK
Abuse case family meets law chief
Craig Sweeney
Sweeney: eligible for parole after five years and 108 days

The family of a three-year-old girl who suffered a "terrifying" sex assault by paedophile Craig Sweeney have met the attorney general.

The girl's family said the talks over sentences for paedophiles were "quite constructive".

Sweeney's case put sentencing in the spotlight after he was told he would be eligible for parole after he had served just over five years in custody.

A spokesperson for the attorney general said the meeting was "constructive".

The meeting came a day after an inquiry by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) found that failings by South Wales Police delayed the hunt for Sweeney, who was caught by chance in England.

Chief constable Barbara Wilding has apologised to the family, which has said it will sue the force.

The three-year-old was snatched from her family home in the Rumney area of Cardiff on 2 January.

Sweeney, who was known to the family, had just finished a period of being on licence after early release for indecently assaulting another child, aged six.

We are now focusing our efforts on the civil action against South Wales Police
Victim's family

Sweeney's crime put the criminal justice system in the spotlight after the trial judge at Cardiff Crown Court said the 24-year-old paedophile would be eligible for parole after serving five years and 108 days in custody, despite receiving a life sentence.

The sentence led to widespread criticism, including a request by Home Secretary John Reid for Attorney General Lord Goldsmith to review it.

Lord Goldsmith concluded that the law had been applied correctly by the judge after Sweeney entered an early guilty plea, but invited the family to the private meeting on Thursday.

Following the hour-long meeting in Parliament, the girl's family released a statement.

It read: "We feel today's meeting with the attorney general and Baroness Scotland [the justice minister] was quite constructive and both the attorney general and Baroness Scotland were very sympathetic to the family.

Rumney area of Cardiff
Sweeney snatched the girl from the Rumney area of Cardiff

"However, we are still waiting for answers in relation to the failings by the multi-agency public protection arrangements.

"We are now focusing our efforts on the civil action against South Wales Police in the hope that some of these questions will be answered."

A spokesperson for the attorney general said: "The meeting was constructive and there was a full and honest exchange.

"The attorney general and Baroness Scotland listened carefully to a range of points raised by the family."

Meanwhile, Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer has said defendants who enter an early guilty plea in the courts should not automatically receive a one-third discount on their sentence.

Referring to the Sweeney case, he said: "The judge was bound to give a one-third discount because the defendant had pleaded guilty at the first opportunity.

"But if a large number of people have seen you commit the crime - and you know that - I don't think it's right that you automatically get one-third off your sentence.

"That's wrong, and that needs to be changed."

On Wednesday, the IPCC partially upheld a complaint from the girl's father that officers could have prevented part of her "terrifying ordeal".

The IPCC's report found that police made an early, incorrect decision to treat Sweeney's action as a kidnap rather than a sex-related abduction.

The IPCC said more "prompt and appropriate action" after the victim's mother had supplied officers with Sweeney's name and address, may have prevented Sweeney from leaving his flat with the girl and driving across the Severn Bridge into England.

Sweeney was eventually stopped by traffic police in Wiltshire after a car chase started by him driving with no lights on and jumping red traffic lights.

The IPCC investigation did not back the family's claim that prompter action could have prevented the girl being seriously sexually assaulted in Sweeney's flat.

But the report recommended certain South Wales Police officers face a misconduct panel for failing to be "conscientious and diligent".

Listen to an interview with the girl's mother

South Wales Police react to the IPCC decision

Confidence in judges 'undermined'
04 Jul 06 |  UK Politics

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