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PF v Christopher Daniel

At Dumbarton Sheriff Court, Sheriff Gerard Sinclair discharged absolutely Christopher Daniel after he was found guilty of sexual assault.

Circumstances of the offence

The circumstances of the offence were that the family of the complainer was friendly with that of the accused, and would visit each other from time to time. During visits the complainer liked playing with the accused, who had a computer in his room. When they played on the computer she would often sit on the accused’s knee. Several times during visits he touched her on her vagina, placing his hand over her vaginal area. His hand was cupped and he would press it against that area. Whenever he did this she had clothes on, either leggings or tights or pants.

The complainer’s father described the accused as an intelligent, but quiet boy who seemed very young and immature. In the course of a meeting between the complainer’s mother, the accused’s parents and the accused, he initially denied, but later admitted, his actions. The complainer’s parents agreed not to contact the police at that time understanding that the accused was to obtain professional help, to which he was agreeable. However, subsequently believing that he was backtracking on, and changing the nature of, his admissions they decided to contact the police.

Sheriff’s disposal
The Sheriff considered all the relevant factors, including the nature of the offence, the impact on the victim and others affected by the case and the particular circumstances of the accused.

As to the circumstances of the offence, the Sheriff considered that the actions, occurring on more than one occasion could not be classed as spontaneous. However, there had been no attempt to escalate the nature of the offending. In light of the evidence as to the immaturity of the accused, and the nature of the discussion during which he admitted his actions, the Sheriff considered the offence to be the result of an entirely inappropriate curiosity of an emotionally naive teenager rather than for the purpose of sexual gratification. The accused had appeared both noticeably immature and socially awkward, features confirmed by other evidence in the case. It was fortunate that the complainer appeared to have suffered no injury or long lasting effects.

It was clear that the complainer’s family held no ill will against the accused’s family. They indicated in their evidence that they were not seeking any form of retribution. Their main focus appeared to be a wish to have the accused admit his culpability and address his behaviour. The accused’s family were clearly a caring and supportive one who the sheriff considered would, in light of his verdict, wish to provide whatever support was necessary for their son.

The accused was a 17 year old, first offender. He had suffered considerable opprobrium, having been temporarily suspended from his university course. During the trial he presented as someone who, with appropriate support and guidance, could become a valuable contributor to society. The Sheriff considered it unlikely that he would ever appear in court as an accused again. Any recorded conviction for this offence would have serious consequences in terms of the accused`s future career. On the authorities, this was also a relevant factor in deciding how to deal with the case. Any sentence would mean that he would probably be unable to continue his university course. The notification requirements of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 would automatically apply to a conviction for this offence unless an absolute discharge was granted.

Considering all of these factors, the Sheriff reached the conclusion that justice could be served in this case by taking the wholly exceptional decision not to pass sentence and to grant an absolute discharge.