Calls for sentence appeal

Lawrence Henderson.
Lawrence Henderson.

Upper Bann MLAs have called for an appeal into the sentence of Lawrence Henderson who was given probation after pleading guilty to possessing child pornography.

Henderson, of Kilwilkie Road, pleaded guilty recently at Craigavon Magistrates Court to 26 charges of making an indecent photograph of a child and one charge of having in his possession 3,354 indecent photographs of children. He was put on probation for three years and placed on the Sex Offenders Register.

Ulster Unionist MLA Jo-Anne Dobson called for the sentence to be ‘urgently reviewed’.

“The community are rightly asking what deterrent this sentence provides - sadly the answer is little. I share the public anger that, having pleaded guilty, such a frankly lenient sentence has been passed.”

DUP MLA Stephen Moutray said: “It is utterly appalling that an individual who pleads guilty to such a serious, disgusting and disturbing crime has walked free with what I would say is slap on the wrists. I have written to the DPP asking that this sentence be reviewed.”

Head of NSPCC for NI, Neil Anderson, said: “The phenomenal amount of indecent images of children being circulated is a major problem that needs to be urgently tackled. This is not a victimless crime; behind every image is a real little boy or girl who has had unspeakable abuse committed against them so we must have tougher action taken to bring this foul trade to a halt. A custodial sentence for serious sexual offences is the only way to send a crystal clear message that society will not accept this behaviour in any way. It also reflects the lifelong damage that sexual abuse can have on children and young people.”

A spokesperson for the Public Prosecution Service said: “The Criminal Justice Act 1988 gives the Court of Appeal the power to review a sentence passed by the Crown Court in respect of certain offences on the grounds that it may be unduly lenient. This power applies to all offences that are triable on indictment only and to a number of other offences that the law specifies. This particular case involved an “either way” offence, ie a case which can be dealt with at either Magistrates’ or Crown Court level. Additionally, the offences are not included in the scheduled list of offences the PPS can refer.

“The offences prosecuted in this case are therefore not capable in law of being referred to the Court of Appeal. The prosecutor’s duty in a sentencing hearing is to provide the court with an accurate summary of the facts of the case and to ensure that all relevant authorities are bought to the Judge’s attention.

“This is what was done in this case. The decision as to the level of sentence imposed is one that the Judge alone takes, independently of the PPS.”