HMA v Joseph Cullen

At the High Court in Glasgow on 23 July 2015, Lord Turnbull sentenced Joseph Cullen to 12 months imprisonment for historical sex abuse offences.

On sentencing, Lord Turnbull made the following statement in court: 

“Joseph Cullen, you have pled guilty to two offences involving the sexual abuse of young boys who you came into contact with in your early years of involvement with church choirs. In each case the young boy involved saw you as an older leadership figure and there were obvious facets of grooming involved in your association with both. 

In identifying the appropriate sentence I must begin by taking proper account of the particular conduct engaged in. 

The conduct encompassed by charge 2 was of a minor nature compared with much of the conduct which comes to the attention of this court and would not have been prosecuted at this level on its own. 

The conduct encompassed by charge 1 involves behaviour which took place on three distinct occasions over a period of about two years. The first two occasions involved conduct which, although serious, would probably not have been prosecuted at this level on its own, or even in combination with the conduct specified in charge 2. 

However, the third episode encompassed by charge 1 involves a most serious act – the sodomy of a child then aged 10 years old. That offence would always have been prosecuted in the High Court and would inevitably have resulted in a custodial sentence. 

It is now 37 years ago since that act took place. However, criminal conduct once committed does not lose its characterisation as a consequence of the passage of time and the impact which crimes such as this can have is capable of lasting over decades or longer. 

It remains the case therefore that I must pass sentence in respect of serious criminal conduct. Three matters of importance fall to be taken account of though. 

First, today I am passing sentence on a 55-year-old mature man. The crimes were committed by a youth in his late teens and, in respect of charge 2, by a young man in his early 20s. I cannot assess sentence as if these crimes were committed by the man you are today. 

Furthermore, in looking to your own circumstances all those years ago I accept that there were aspects of your upbringing, and influences which you were subjected to as a youth, which I should take account of, particularly in assessing charge 1. 

In addition to your age at the time, your level of maturity and your other circumstances at that time, there is a second important matter which I should take account of. When the court is considering sentence it is often necessary to make an assessment of sorts as to what future risk the accused person poses. 

Many criminals claim that they will never offend again and that they will mend their ways. At the point of sentencing the court does not know how sincere they are or how successful they will be in their stated aim. 

The situation is quite different in your case. I can look back over the many years which have elapsed since this conduct and see as a matter of fact what you have made of your life. You have had a long and successful marriage and you have children of your own. 

You have studied hard to make the most of your obvious musical abilities and have made a great success of your life in music, attaining many prestigious appointments and achieving genuinely international acclaim. 

In that process you will have brought much pleasure to many people, not least the many members of the choirs and other musical societies at which you taught over the years. The many impressive references which I have been provided with today make that point most powerfully. It is plain that you have enriched the lives of many in the years which have passed. 

It is obvious then that you put your brief period of criminally deviant behaviour behind you many, many years ago. 

This case will undoubtedly bring your musical career to an end, as it has to age extent already. That will be a form of punishment which should not go unnoticed. 

At this remove in time from the offences which I am dealing with, and in light of the other matters I have touched on so far, my conclusion is that I would probably not be imposing a custodial sentence were it not for the act of sodomy encompassed within charge 1. 

I remain of the view that in light of this conduct and the age of the victim at the time I can only deal with the matter appropriately by the imposition of a custodial sentence. 

But that brings me to the third matter which I must take account of. In addition to the victim impact statement which I was provided with at the last hearing, I have received an unsolicited letter from that victim. That letter conveys in an intellectual, dignified, and articulate way the feelings which he now harbours. 

In that letter he expresses his forgiveness of you in a most charitable manner and displays a complete lack of interest in vengeance or retribution. Indeed, he expresses concern about the impact of these proceedings on your own family and the loss which the community would suffer if you were no longer able to contribute through your musical skills. 

Whilst I am grateful to him for that contribution, as I am sure you are, and while I will take account of the views which he has eloquently expressed, the court cannot allow sentence to be selected by any victim, regardless of whether his views are for leniency or severe punishment. 

I must reflect the wider public interest in passing sentence. 

The sentencing process has a number of components though and each sentence must be tailored to the unique circumstance of the particular offence and offender. Those components include retribution, deterrence and the need for rehabilitation. 

In the present case the need for either retribution or rehabilitation is slight, if present at all. There is no question of an on-going need to provide public protection. The only real remaining purpose in passing sentence at this stage is the need to mark and express society’s condemnation of the sexual abuse of children. 

In the circumstances which I have set out I am satisfied that the need to mark that condemnation requires a custodial sentence to be imposed but I am also satisfied that the combined effect of the mitigatory features which I have outlined permits me to impose a far shorter sentence than I would have in other circumstances. 

Taking charges 1 and 2 together I would have imposed a sentence of 18 months imprisonment. Parliament requires me to consider restricting any sentence which would otherwise have been imposed if the case is dealt with by a guilty plea, in light of the utilitarian value of that plea. 

In this case there is a significant utilitarian value and I will restrict the sentence to a period of 12 months to date from today. 

You will remain subject to the notification requirements which I specified at the last hearing.”