‘Wake up’ Call After Abuser Case

MP and former minister Alun Michael has joined criticism over a paedophile’s “lenient” sentence by saying judges must “wake up and smell the coffee”. He was speaking after the home secretary hit out at the sentence and called on the attorney general to act – sparking a political row.

Craig Sweeney, 24, was sentenced to life with the chance of parole in five years at Cardiff Crown Court on Monday. The family of the toddler he abducted and attacked, said it was “an insult”.

Relatives of the three-year-old victim – said to have been traumatised by her experience in January this year – want a government review of sentencing guidelines and to increase sentences given to paedophiles.

Judge John Griffith Williams QC was acting in accordance with guidelines in sentencing Sweeney – a notional sentence of 18 years, which is halved to reach the actual sentence. He is then obliged to cut a third off in view of the guilty plea.

But Home Secretary John Reid sparked a political row after he publicly said the punishment did not seem to reflect the seriousness of the crime. He also asked that the attorney general consider referring the case to the Court of Appeal.

The BBC understands that Lord Goldsmith feels the intervention was “not terribly helpful”. A spokesman for his office said the file on the Sweeney case had already been called in for consideration, regardless of Mr Reid’s call.

Speaking to the BBC on Tuesday, the family’s MP, Alun Michael, a former Home Office minister and ex-leader of the Welsh assembly, described angry headlines about sentences given to child sex offenders as a “feeding frenzy”.

But he hit out at claims that the government had created a climate of lenient sentencing, and said “some judges simply aren’t getting it”.

The judicial process, he warned, must not be driven by the media but said “judges who give unduly lenient sentences are simply not understanding their obligations”.

“I think the home secretary’s reaction is understandable but he doesn’t actually have a part to play,” he added.

“It’s the attorney general who needs to look at it very coolly, calmly in a judicial sense. We don’t want a vigilante-style approach whether it’s from the public, politicians or the media.”

Meanwhile, former attorney general Lord Morris of Aberavon stressed the important of judges maintaining independence.

“Our courts are not run by government ministers,” he said.

“As far as sentencing is concerned, they (judges) are independent. If he (Mr Reid) has a concern – and it be a right concern – he can amend the acts of parliament.”

Lord Morris, who was attorney general in the late 1990s, insisted that was a matter for the Court of Appeal and urged that public discussion on such a scale should be restrained.

Meanwhile, accounts of Sweeney’s crimes continue to be reported widely following his sentencing

Sweeney – who was known to his victim’s family – had snatched the girl from her home after she had returned from a shopping trip with her mother who had gone out of the room to make a telephone call.

He drove her to his Newport flat where he was living after being released early from a three-year sentence for indecently assaulting a girl aged six.

He sexually attacked the toddler before driving her over the border to England where he was chased by police for a traffic offence.

After driving at speeds of up to 100mph mainly on the wrong side of the road, at one point he sped straight at an articulated lorry before swerving away at the last minute. He then saw a police helicopter above him and swerved violently down a bank. Sweeney was arrested at the roadside of the A4 near Marlborough, and police then noticed the girl was lying at the side of the road after he had hurled her from the moving car.