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  • Writer's pictureTanya Fowles (Local Democracy Reporter)

Paedophile granted lifetime anonymity after threatening self-harm if identified

Court room with anonymised person

The Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS) has responded to enquiries around remarks made by a judge who having jailed a paedophile, granted him lifetime anonymity after he threatened to self-harm if publicly identified.

The decision makes the defendant only the eighth person to be granted lifetime anonymity throughout the United Kingdom, with all but one (coincidentally another Northern Ireland paedophile who also threatened to self-harm if named) imposed due to identified third-party risk to life.

The judge rejected Press submissions of prison safeguarding measures may have been more supportive than in the community.

A psychiatric assessment submitted to the court was not completed by a treating clinician, which Press have long argued should be mandatory and some judges insist upon this.

Instead, a psychiatrist was sourced by defence lawyers in a private capacity, funded by Legal Aid.

When Press enquired if this psychiatrist or the defendant’s GP notified the Driver Vehicle Licencing Agency as to his suicidal ideation (a legal requirement) it transpired neither had. Nor was there any recommendation for immediate hospital admission under the Mental Health (NI) Order 1986.

Until this case and a second in 2022, the existing lifetime anonymity orders all related to cases of murder and generally applied to new identities for offenders on release from prison.

They include Robert Thompson and Jon Venables who murdered toddler Jamie Bulger; Mary Bell who, aged 10, tortured and murdered two boys in 1968 and Maxine Carr, jailed for lying to protect her partner Ian Huntley who murdered Soham schoolgirls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman.

Two schoolgirls who murdered a vulnerable woman in 2016 remained under statutory restrictions for any youth offender, but on turning 18 a court anonymised their identities for life.

The crimes in question and reasons for anonymity are strikingly different to the two Northern Ireland cases, which in turn are entirely akin to each.

The first occurred in 2022 when a judge at Newry Crown Court initially ruled in favour of Press by lifting a Reporting Restriction Order on a convicted paedophile, but swiftly and permanently reimposed it when he threatened to kill himself.

In the most recent case at Antrim Crown Court the defendant accepted attempting to communicate sexually with two female children who were in fact undercover police officers, was granted lifetime anonymity on the basis of threatening to self-harm.

Jailing him for 16 months the judge was concerned by the defendant’s claim of knowing he was communicating with decoys and acted out of a “thrill of catching them out”.

Press pointed to the custodial sentence affording mitigation to prevent self-harm through immediate placement on a Supporting Prisoners At Risk (SPAR) scheme.

The judge rejected this, stating:

“Press are urging me to remove the reporting restriction, indicating that if anything (defendant) would be safer in prison than he would have been in the community… I acknowledge there should be a considerable degree of supervision in prison and I am reminded the SPAR assessment should be in place, but it remains a fact unhappily that people do still take their own lives in prison.”

These remarks were put to NIPS who were asked to set out provisions in place for prisoners presenting with suicidal ideation, how have they improved in recent years, what therapeutic intervention is provided and how court-ordered lifetime anonymity managed within the prison system.

A spokesperson for the Northern Ireland Prison Service replied:

“It would be inappropriate to respond to a judicial decision. NIPS takes the wellbeing of people in our care very seriously and works with healthcare partners in the South Eastern Trust (SHSCT) and others to respond to people requiring additional support.”

Further: “Supporting People at Risk Evolution (SPAR Evo), fully implemented by August 2020, is a multi-disciplinary person-centred approach to support people in crisis or distress. Risk assessments are completed for everyone committed into our care as part of the reception process and concerns can be raised by anyone at any time during the custody period. When concern is raised, a risk assessment is completed and support will be provided. If determined to be at risk, a care plan is developed and implemented which aims to address the root cause of the crisis or distress and support the person through this. NIPS and the SEHSCT are also working together to introduce Towards Zero Suicide within prisons.”

NIPS did not respond to managing lifetime anonymity so the enquiry was sent back, but there has been no reply at the time of publishing.

Having refused to comment on the judge’s original decision, the Office of the Lady Chief Justice (OLCJ) was shown the response from NIPS, but as before there was no comment.

OLCJ was previously advised Press viewed the order as disproportionate and contrary to what lifetime anonymity is reserved for.

It was also pointed out Northern Ireland is now the singular UK jurisdiction to impose two out of eight such orders, both for convicted sex offenders, both claiming suicidal ideation.

Once again, OLCJ declined to comment.


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