Jail term for indecently assaulting boy

Gifford Prendergast, 36, was sentenced on Thursday to five years in prison after being found guilty of indecent assault on a male younger than 16.

Before his arrest last year, Prendergast had worked as an administrator with the Health Services Authority Emergency Medical Services. He is a former emergency medical technician.

Trial by judge alone took place the week of 14 September and Justice Alexander Henderson delivered his verdict on the 17th. It was not reported because in August 2008 Defence Attorney Keva Reid successfully applied for an order that there be ‘no publication’ until conclusion of the matter.

Justice Henderson remanded Prendergast in custody and asked Ms Reid and Crown Counsel Kirsty-Ann Gunn to assist with sentencing precedents.

‘It should be clearly understood he will not be sentenced because he participated in homosexual acts,’ Justice Henderson emphasised. Prendergast offended because he participated in the acts with a boy younger than 16 – a juvenile. The judge considered this the same as cases involving girls younger than 16.

In reaching his verdict, the judge noted that the only direct evidence of the assaults came from the boy.

The boy was 12 when the first incident took place and the course of behaviour involving over 50 assaults continued over a period of 18 months. The boy then told a relative what was happening and that adult took him to the police to make a report.

The judge warned himself that it was dangerous to convict on the evidence of the boy alone unless what he said was supported or confirmed by other evidence.

Overall, he found the boy to be a convincing witness. The judge said in his experience it was not unusual for young persons to wait before complaining. There was nothing to suggest the boy was lying or had been rehearsed. His evidence was reasonably consistent and he was not shaken in cross-examination.

Some of the incidents had occurred at a warehouse, where Prendergast operated a business. The boy sometimes worked there and he was given lunch money.

After the boy’s complaint, officers went to the warehouse and seized a laptop computer. A forensic computer examiner testified that there were two user profiles – Prendergast and guest. The judge said it was reasonable to infer that Prendergast was the predominant user.

Some 1,200 to 1,300 images were found in the memory of the computer. Because of the way material is stored, it was dangerous to assume that all of them were actually viewed. However, the judge was satisfied that a good many of them were.

With the consent of counsel, the judge viewed 45 pages. All of the images with a few exceptions were pornographic; all with a few exceptions depicted homosexual acts; a large majority of them depicted homosexual acts with or between adolescent boys.

The judge was satisfied that Prendergast had viewed a considerable number of these images. This could not be interpreted as a propensity to commit a crime. But the judge could infer that viewing the images did indicate a strong interest in homosexual acts with adolescents.

He found the Internet evidence to be strongly supportive of the boy’s evidence. He also considered evidence from Prendergast’s landlord as credible and confirming. That witness had said he saw Prendergast take the boy into his bedroom for long periods, sometimes with the door locked.

At the sentencing hearing, Ms Gunn noted that the maximum sentence in Cayman is 10 years for indecent assault. In the UK, the maximum is 14 for sexual assault.

Ms Reid submitted 26 letters of reference from members of the community. ‘People who know him are genuinely shocked at the position he finds himself in today,’ she said.

In passing sentence, Justice Henderson spoke of the harm caused to victims of sexual offences. In this case, the victim was too young to consent, but his evidence made it clear he would not have. The judge said a mild degree of physical force was used on some occasions, but Prendergast also used what was rightly called ‘mental force’.

The major aggravating feature of this case was that the repeated assaults were committed by someone in a position of trust.

Details have been excluded from this report to protect the boy’s identity.