Evening Telegraph

Retired Dundee sheriff says it is ‘nonsense’ that courts are ‘soft’ on child sex predators

He spent almost 20 years administering justice as one of Tayside’s most respected sheriffs.

Sheriff Richard Davidson

And although he retired from the bench in Dundee two years ago, Richard Davidson retains a keen interest in the way criminals are dealt with in courts across Scotland.

Over the course of his career, the 70-year-old had to deal with numerous cases involving serious sexual assaults on children.

And although he says he has “no difficulty” with the worst offenders being jailed, he does not support mandatory prison sentences for paedophiles and abusers.

He also rejects any notion that sheriffs are “soft”on predators, branding the suggestion “nonsense”.

The retired sheriff said: “Factors relevant to the sentence other than the nature of the crime itself are the age of the offender, whether the offender has relevant previous convictions and what community support, if any, there is for the offender who might be suitable for a community service.

“For me, the nature of the offence and the previous record of the offender were always the two most significant factors and I do not think I was unusual in that respect.”

Sheriff Davidson stressed that sheriffs and High Court judges don’t make the law.

He added: “The bulk of the law in the area of sexual offences is now made by the Scottish Parliament.

“A judge or sheriff would have to justify a decision to send a first offender to prison.

“He or she would require to consider a report from a criminal justice social worker. The sentencer may also consider it advisable to obtain a report from a forensic psychiatrist and/or a forensic psychologist.”

He stressed that the judge or sheriff did not carry out inquiries into the circumstances of offences.

“The information justifying prosecution is supplied by the Crown,” he said.

“The Procurator Fiscal Service is, in turn, dependent largely on the police for its information and they, in turn, are largely dependent on the public. Often the primary source of that information is a child. It is no easy thing to interview a child.

“It has to be understood that the majority of offences against children are committed by people already known to them.

“Children are understandably reluctant to speak about sexual abuse, especially when it was perpetrated by grandad or big brother or the man up the stairs.

“Younger children sometimes do not recognise that what has happened to them is sexual abuse. Children are commonly threatened with consequences if they tell what has happened.

“I acknowledge that many people say that child abusers should be executed or have certain operations performed upon them but that is entirely the wrong message, one that says we as a society are as brutal and uncivilised as the offenders.

“I have no difficulty with sex offenders being imprisoned, being on lifelong restriction where their activities are monitored and they are always subject to recall in the event of non-compliance, or with the proposition that communities be told by the police that they have a convicted sex offender in their midst, provided the police deal effectively with vigilantes.

“And I am open to any suggestion which goes towards the protection of children.”