We want justice and protection for our children.
That’s the message from the Evening Telegraph, as we launch a hard-hitting campaign calling for those who prey on young people to be automatically jailed.
Our Kids Need Justice will demand that every person who commits a sexual offence involving a child be given a mandatory custodial sentence.
Every week we see perverts walking out of courtrooms across Tayside and Fife with their freedom intact – despite committing despicable acts, including sexual assaults on youngsters and downloading indecent images of children.
Since the start of the year, we’ve covered more than a dozen such cases. Of the examples we found, more than half walked away from court without a prison term.
Eight were given community sentences such as payback orders, while seven went to jail – most of them for just a couple of years or less.
And in all the cases we found in our archives, offenders were given bail while awaiting sentence – none were locked up immediately after admitting their crimes.
The weight of public opinion has never been stronger – 90% of readers who took part in a poll want such offenders to face nothing less than a spell behind bars.
That’s why we want guidelines introduced that make this a requirement for sheriffs and judges across the land.
Over the coming weeks, we’ll put the public’s views to politicians at various levels and call for change. We’ll contact the Scottish Sentencing Council – an independent, statutory body that produces sentencing guidelines – to see what work it’s prepared to do on this matter.
We plan to hear from victims of sexual abuse and their families, to highlight the impact such crimes have on them and wider society – while we’ll also get the views of experts who deal with youngsters targeted by paedophiles.
And, if required, we’ll ensure your voices are heard through a petition to the Scottish Parliament. The government has previously pointed out the merits of community-based sentences – where offenders can get access to help and rehabilitation.
But in the eyes of the public, these do nothing to protect the victims and those around them – or give them justice.
It also leaves an offender free to return to offending behaviour with fewer barriers than prison.
Nearly 450 people took part in an exclusive poll we ran over the last few weeks, with 420 of them stating that they wanted those who prey on children given a mandatory prison sentence.
Only 44 – fewer than 10% – said the outcome should depend on the severity of the crime or the circumstances, and just two people said community rehabilitation was their favoured option.
Of those surveyed, more than a quarter said they wanted life terms given to sex offenders who target children.
Only six people said a sentence of up to a year was appropriate, with similar numbers voting for terms ranging from a year up to 10 years plus. Just 22 people said they didn’t support automatic jail terms at all.
We asked people: If you believe sex offenders are getting off too lightly, why do you think this is happening? More than a third said it was down to outdated legislation and sentencing guidelines.
A further third said sheriffs had a lack of empathy with victims, while 67 people – 14.4% – believed offenders weren’t getting jailed due to a lack of space in prisons, with a number of other reasons put forward.
We also asked our readers what they thought was the best way of reducing the number of people committing these crimes. Two-thirds – nearly 300 people – said harsher sentences, with 10.7% looking for more diligence from technology and internet companies, and a variety of other solutions given lower-level support.
The message from the public is clear: courts aren’t tough enough on those who commit some of the most heinous crimes against the most vulnerable people.
That needs to change, before more folk lose faith in the Scottish justice system – and more people fall victim to those getting off too lightly.