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CPS accepts criticism of sex abuse prosecution

12-year-old girl 'could have received the help she needed'

20 June 2011

The CPS has accepted it should not have prosecuted a 12-year-old girl who made a video of herself sexually abusing her sisters, aged two and three.

The decision was strongly criticised by Lord Justice Munby at the High Court, which took the unusual step of overturning the prosecution.

A Crown prosecutor made the decision to press charges after watching a 25-minute internet video, during which the older girl is seen to laugh and smile as she threatens and abuses her young sisters.

However, the 12 year old, known as E, told police she had been groomed over the internet by an adult male, who had persuaded her to make the video.

Xanthe Tait, deputy chief Crown prosecutor in North Yorkshire and Humberside, said: “This is an extremely complex and sensitive case and the CPS did not take the decision to bring a prosecution lightly.

“We carefully considered a number of factors, most importantly whether it was in the public interest to take this case to court given the young ages of those involved.”

Tait said the CPS accepted the court’s decision and would ensure CPS prosecutors were aware of the court’s comments when handling similar cases.

Delivering judgment in R (on the application of E,S and R) v the DPP [2011] EWHC 1465 (Admin), Munby LJ said, once the video had been discovered by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, the local council convened a strategy group.

The group consisted of representatives from the local council, the NSPCC, the safeguarding children board, youth offending team, child mental health service, children’s school and the police.

Munby LJ said the police were the only ones that believed that pressing charges was the right course of action. The CPS later charged E with sexual assault of S and sexual assault by penetration of R. E was committed for trial at the Crown Court but the case was adjourned pending the outcome of the judicial review.

The decision was challenged by counsel for the older sister and separate counsel for the younger ones. They argued that the DPP’s guidance on sex abuse by children was inadequate and that the decision-making process was flawed, along with the decision itself.

Lord Justice Munby said it was “quite impossible” to contend that the DPP’s policy was unlawful.

However, he said the Crown prosecutor’s decision letter did not “engage at all” with what the strategy group’s report had said “in very plain and concerning terms about the adverse effects on all three children of the decision to prosecute”.

He dismissed the challenge to the legality of the DPP’s policy and guidance, but ruled that the decision to prosecute E should be quashed. Mr Justice McCombe agreed.

Sally Howard, partner at Howard & Byrne solicitors in York, acted for E and also for her sisters, since there was no conflict of interest.

Howard said the decision to prosecute would have an impact on E “for the rest of her life”. She said E had been living in care since early in 2010 and would never be able to return to her former school.

“If this had been dealt with more sensitively from the beginning she could have received the help she needed and moved on quite quickly,” Howard said.

She added that the man who groomed E on the internet had never been found, but had also approached some of E’s friends.

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