It has probably not escaped most people’s attention that there is a debate raging on about whether or not the sentence handed down to Rolf Harris is appropriate. Some are of the opinion that the sentence is not long enough, or too lenient in proportion to the offences he was convicted of. Some believe that as a man of 84, there is little benefit to putting him in jail, and some going so far as to believe that a man of this age is incapable of being a further danger to women (whether or not the offending stopped in later life this view genuinely frightens me). In my own opinion, I have several problems with the sentences passed down on Rolf Harris last week.
Firstly, in the sentencing comments by Mr Justice Sweeney he spoke of considering that Mr Harris be enabled to spend his 'twilight years' with his family. My major contention with this issue is the length of time that his abusing went undetected, unreported, and I suppose more to the point unpunished. Whilst it may seem pointless to some; sending a man who probably won't live to fulfil his full sentence to prison, I would ask those people to consider the effect that the abuse has had on the victim(s), the knowledge and anguish they have held for lengthy periods of time knowing that their abuser has been afforded the freedom to live peacefully in a way that was taken from them. I would also suggest that this be reason to not consider his age a mitigating factor, he has, for decades been able to spend time with his family, I seriously wonder why this luxury should be granted to him now just because he has been discovered so late in his life.
My second issue is with whether his celebrity status was a factor in a lower sentence length, as his other 'contributions to society through entertainment and charity work' also seem to have been considered. Teachers and care home workers are all in the position to make great contributions, but when these positions are manipulated to enable sexual offending, it is considered to be a gross breach of trust, and therefore, I have to wonder the extent to which their contributions are considered mitigating factors. If a teacher whom abused several children was also supporting many others towards achieving good grades etc, would this be considered a worthy enough contribution to society to warrant a lowered sentence in the same way that the charity work of a popular entertainer may be? Somehow the scales feel tipped, though on research, sentence lengths for so called non-celebrity historic abuse cases still seem lenient in my eyes anyway; the reason behind this brings me on to my third point:
Concurrent sentences. Under guidelines for concurrent sentencing, when several charges are pursued, if a person were to be sentenced consecutively this may result in an overall sentence length considered disproportionate to the crimes committed, and therefore concurrent sentencing is used to consider the offences as a whole. While I see some sense to this, in this case along with those of Stuart Hall and Max Clifford I feel it has been grossly miscalculated to the benefit of the convicted party. According to the sentencing council guidelines, when multiple sentences are to be served concurrently, it may be that some are increased in length through the consideration of aggravating factors to reflect the overall criminality and the amount of harm caused to the victims. With this in mind, receiving 12-15 month sentences for offences which even under the 1956 act carry a maximum sentence of 2 years, does not reflect the purpose set out in these guidelines.
I understand the sensibility behind concurrent sentencing, however, with this case it seems that whilst the mitigating circumstances have been taken into account, there is a distinct lack of consideration for the aggravating factors that should have been applied to the sentences of the six sexual offences to be served concurrently. As I’ve previously said, each of these carry at lowest, a maximum sentence of 2 years (and for the most recent charges, up to 10 years). It is astounding that it appears the psychological effect on his victims has been disregarded with the knowledge Rolf Harris is likely to serve just half of his sentence in prison.
J. IsonB.A. (Hons) Crime & Investigative Studies