Stepfather is jailed for cruelty

A man who made his young stepdaughter touch his private parts was sentenced to a year imprisonment for cruelty to a child.

To protect the girl’s identity, the man’s name will not be reported.

He had pleaded not guilty and Chief Justice Anthony Smellie directed that his trial be closed to the public.

After the jury returned the guilty verdict, Crown Counsel Elisabeth Lees shared some details so people would know that reports of this nature are investigated and prosecuted.

She also explained how a child five years old could give evidence.

Ms Lees said the man was charged with cruelty instead of indecent assault because the girl was not touched.

The incident leading to the charge occurred while the stepfather was at home with the girl and the mother was at work.

When the mother came home, she asked the girl how was her day. The girl said she didn’t have any fun. The mother asked why not.

The girl used a child’s word for the male sex organ and said daddy made her play with it. Something came out and went on a towel.

The mother called police and officers, including a woman, came to the home. The man said the girl was a liar. Officers recovered a towel, which later tested positive for the presence of semen.

For the trial, the girl was allowed to sit in another room with an adult of her choosing who was not a witness in the case. The girl gave her evidence via video link so she did not have to see the defendant or the jury.

She was questioned by the prosecutor and the defence attorney, whom she could see because the video link works both ways.

Ms Lees said there was a practice-run before the trial so that the girl could get used to the camera and the microphone and also meet the attorneys who would be questioning her. During the practice, they asked her age and had her recite a nursery rhyme, but they did not talk about the case.

The judge also met the girl before the trial to decide if she understood questions and could give intelligent and intelligible answers.

Because of her age, the girl did not take any oath before giving her evidence at the trial.

With her evidence not sworn, the judge directed jurors that, even if they believed the girl, they could not convict unless her evidence was corroborated by some material evidence that implicated the accused man.

Legally, they could find that the towel was corroboration. They did.

After the guilty verdict, the convicted man was remanded in custody pending a social inquiry report.

At the sentencing hearing, the defence attorney referred to the report and said there were no previous convictions of this nature against the man and no previous allegations.

The report concluded that the man did not have a high risk of re-offending and it recommended a non-custodial sentence. One factor mentioned was the man’s children from other relationships and his desire to support them.

The attorney told the court that, rather than being an abusive father, the man was a good father and what had occurred was an isolated incident.

Precedent English cases cited by the Crown had prison sentences imposed in all but one. That one involved an offender who was physically and mentally handicapped.

The Chief Justice said his review of authorities confirmed what he had said at the trial’s conclusion – that prison was almost inevitable after conviction.

He said the stepfather’s behaviour had been abhorrent. Psychological harm to a child of tender years is no less serious and no less real than if the abuse had involved physical injuries.

The stepfather showed no remorse and, according to the social inquiry report, he maintained he did not commit the offence.

The Chief Justice referred to this attitude and agreed that the law did not compel the man to admit guilt. His attitude could not cause the court to increase the sentence, but it did not earn him any reduction, which a guilty plea and the remorse it implied would have earned.

The judge said he accepted that this was an isolated incident and the man was not a threat to society. But the offence was a breach of trust and the court had a duty to register society’s abhorrence of this kind of conduct.

There were no exceptional circumstances to justify any departure from the basic principle of imprisonment for such an offence: 12 months was the minimum suitable sentence in this case, the Chief Justice concluded.

The maximum sentence for cruelty to a child is five years.

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