Rapist Walks Free Because 10-Year-Old Girl ‘Looked Older’

A 20-year-old man who had sex with a girl of 10 was yesterday spared jail after a High Court judge agreed his victim looked older. Mr Justice Roderick Evans, one of Wales’ most senior judges, said he understood why Liam Edgecombe, of Haverfordwest, thought the girl was 16.

Taking that into account, he granted Edgecombe a conditional discharge despite him having admitted rape – an automatic charge for anyone who has sex with a child under 13. Apart from having to register with the police as a sex offender, no further punishment was imposed.

Children’s rights campaigners and politicians last night expressed outrage at the lack of a prison sentence, and were especially critical of the judge’s comments that the girl “was looking for a man and got what she wanted”.

Swansea Crown Court heard that the girl was in the care of a local authority when she was taken on a shopping trip to Tesco in Haverfordwest last November 24.

Chris Clee, prosecuting, said she pretended to go to the toilet and took her chance to “disappear”. That night she met Edgecombe in the centre of the town, and he invited her back to his flat. Mr Clee said Edgecombe, a painter, raised the subject of the girl’s age but she asked him, “Does it matter?” They had intercourse twice.

The following day police spotted her in the centre of the town and she was returned to care workers. She told them what had happened but refused to co-operate with the police inquiry. Nevertheless, Edgecombe was traced and admitted what had happened.

Mr Clee said Edgecombe had entered a guilty plea on a basis accepted by the prosecution – that he believed she was 16, that she “presented as a person of that age” and that he was entirely shocked to find out she was only 10. Mr Clee added there was no doubt the girl had consented to sex but because of her age the offence amounted to rape.

In Wales, England and Scotland, anyone who has sex with a boy or girl under the age of 16 has automatically committed an offence. If the child is 13 or older and consenting, that offence is classed as “unlawful sexual intercourse”. But if they are under 13 the offence is rape.

Edgecombe’s barrister, Janet Gedrych, said he was “visibly traumatised” on being told the girl was only 10. He was granted bail only if he returned home to live with his mother.

“This is an exceptional case,” said Miss Gedrych. “He met her outside a pub. His belief that she was over 16 was a reasonable one. It was not her first sexual experience.”

Miss Gedrych said there was “no possibility” that Edgecombe would do such a thing again. She disputed a probation officer’s view that he was at “medium” risk of re-offending. The sex was unprotected and, although the girl was offered the morning-after pill, she refused.

Miss Gedrych said the girl had virtually “jumped” on Edgecombe, whose flat was close by. He had intended to go out drinking with his friends but after coming across such “a friendly girl” he invited her home for drinks instead.

“She is a vulnerable girl and needs protecting from herself,” she added. She said Edgecombe was not aware of her age until police told him.

The judge viewed photographs of the girl before deciding on a non-custodial sentence. He said he had considered ordering Edgecombe to carry out unpaid work for the community, but relented because he already had a full-time job.

The judge said, “She was a girl of 10 and you are a man of 20. Those bald facts do not properly represent the true facts of this case. The prosecution accepts that you believed she was 16 and that that belief was reasonable. She was looking for a man and got what she wanted.”

The judge described the case as “wholly” exceptional and said he had to balance the need to protect young girls and the need to punish Edgecombe. Edgecombe was conditionally discharged for 18 months.

It is not the first time Mr Justice Evans, who on Monday finished presiding over the high-profile murder trial of “text murderer” Stephen Marsh, has been involved in a controversial judgment.

Just 18 months ago he was in the news after he threw out an Aberystwyth University rape case on the basis that “drunken consent” was still consent in the eyes of the law.

Leanne Wood, Plaid’s Shadow Social Justice Minister and a former probation officer and lecturer in social work, said, “It’s not for us as politicians to judge the facts of cases. We have to leave sentencing to judges.

“In saying that, I’m shocked by this sentence. It gives the wrong message to men who want to have sex with children. How can a 10-year-old look like an adult?”

Her sentiments were echoed by Michele Elliott, director of child protection charity Kidscape. She said, “This is absolutely outrageous. It’s the sort of attitude that we thought was eradicated in the 21st century. I don’t know any 20-year-olds who couldn’t tell the difference between a 10-year-old and a 16-year-old.”

Meanwhile Deborah Jones, chief executive of Voices From Care, described the likely trauma to the unnamed 10-year-old already having to cope with a life in the care system.

“Young people in care have a bad enough deal emotionally as it is by being taken away from their parents,” she said. “To have to go through something like this is absolutely outrageous. We’re talking about a 10-year-old child and when you put that into context the comment [that ‘she was looking for a man and got what she wanted’] is outrageous. She needs support, not criticism.

She added, “A 10-year-old girl is a 10-year-old girl regardless of what she looks like.”