Courts could punish paedophiles on intent not harm

By Dominic Casciani
Home and legal correspondent

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The body overseeing criminal sentences in England and Wales is proposing treating paedophiles who are caught in stings the same as abusers who harm real children.

The plan from the Sentencing Council says judges should look at intent, rather than whether a child was harmed.

Undercover operations with officers posing as children are a common way of uncovering paedophile rings.

Offenders have sought reduced jail terms if no child came to harm.

The rules will cover the sentencing of all abusers caught via stings, usually operating online - including those run by police forces around the world and traps set by informal groups of people often dubbed "paedophile hunters".

Current guidelines have long been interpreted as meaning that in many cases, where someone was caught in a sting, the jail term would be lower because of the absence of a child.

But last year, senior judges at the Court of Appeal looked at the actions of abusers - including one who thought he was on his way to meet a real child.

Lord Justice Fulford, the lead judge on that case and a member of the Sentencing Council, said: "The changes we are proposing today will make sure the courts give the proper weight to the harm intended by those who commit offences against children.

"When an offender intends sexual activity with a child, that must be reflected in the sentence imposed, even where that activity does not ultimately take place."

The proposals would affect all abusers convicted of arranging a sexual offence with a child or inciting a child to take part in abuse, whether or not the harm was caused or the victim actually existed.

The maximum jail term for these crimes is 14 years and the guidelines set out how long offenders should be jailed for, depending on the specific circumstances of their crime.

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