Rapists Spending Less Than 4 Years in Jail

Ulster’s jailed rapists have been spending, on average, less than four years behind bars, it can be revealed today. While the average sentence for rape handed down by Northern Ireland’s courts from 1999 to 2003 was seven and a half years, the controversial 50% remission policy here meant that rapists were automatically freed after serving, on average, slightly more than three years. Statistics released by Criminal Justice Minister David Hanson, in response to a parliamentary question, show that over that five year period 52 people were convicted and jailed for rape. During that time the highest annual average sentence passed down by the courts was eight years.

Figures also released by the Minister for the same period show that slightly more than half of all those convicted of sex crimes were jailed by the courts.

Of the 514 people convicted of a sexual offence – including rape, attempted rape, incest, gross indecency, buggery, making and possessing indecent images of a child – 289 were sentenced to immediate custody.

The average sentence handed down for all sex crimes was three years. Therefore, on average offenders were walking free in 18 months.

The revelations are certain to spark further criticism of the Government for its early release policy, which permits dangerous sex offenders to automatically walk free after serving half of their sentence.

Mr Hanson recently agreed to consider the calls of over 20,000 Belfast Telegraph readers to scrap the policy for dangerous sex offenders. However, he will not be making any decision until the autumn when he announces the Northern Ireland Sentencing Review Framework and it is unclear if any new conditions will extend to current prisoners.

The Belfast Telegraph launched a Justice For Attracta campaign, calling for an end to the policy, in the wake of massive public outrage after it emerged that Trevor Hamilton murdered retired librarian Attracta Harron on his release from prison – where he had served half of a seven year sentence for a brutal rape.

Mrs Harron’s husband Michael said: “I think that people are wakening up to the fact that somehow, almost without anyone knowing, this 50% remission for dangerous sex offenders slipped into legislation here.

“Why should there be special dispensation for sex offenders? People involved in crimes during the Troubles have been allowed some sort of licence to try and resolve tensions here, but sex offenders? Why?”

Hamilton is due to be sentenced for Mrs Harron’s murder in a few weeks and he has already been warned by the court that he could be jailed for the rest of his natural life.

Victims groups today warned that the Government needs to learn from the mistakes made and make sure that sex offenders and violent criminals are not released until it is absolutely certain they no longer pose a risk to the public.

“We have been calling for an end to 50% remission for the past 20 years but the Government has just not been listening to what the people are saying. This policy was brought in because of very particular political circumstances, therefore it is now time for it to change,” said Eileen Calder, director of the Rape Crisis Centre.

In Northern Ireland the maximum time a judge can impose for rape is a life sentence. However, it is very unusual for such a sentence to be handed down for rape. There is no minimum tariff.