Monday, April 06, 2009

UK Ministry of Defence admits to sex offenders among armed forces members

The Ministry of Defence has been forced to admit there are 32 registered sex offenders currently serving in the British armed forces …(rumours abound there are more than that serving in the legal profession – Ed)

The Sunday Herald reports :

Army child sex scandal

MoD admits 32 child sex offenders in armed forces

By Helen McArdle

THE MINISTRY of defence has revealed there are 32 registered sex offenders currently serving in the British armed forces ... after the Army failed in a bid to keep a paedophile private out of jail.

Senior commanders in Scotland's Black Watch regiment tried - and failed - to persuade a sheriff not to send the self-confessed paedophile to jail. Senior officers offered to take him on a tour of duty to Afghanistan, and to monitor his behaviour.

The sheriff rejected the intervention, and jailed the soldier, 22-year-old Private Callum Sandeman, for abusing two children. The attempted intervention, and revelations that convicted sex offenders have a safe haven in the armed forces, has now prompted accusations the Army is attempting to act "above the law". There are also fears that sex offenders could use their employment in British regiments to abuse children in conflict zones.

Sandeman admitted walking drunk into the home of a fellow soldier at Army quarters in Inverness and indecently assaulting his nine-year-old son and seven-year-old daughter in their bedrooms in November last year.

Five high-ranking officers, including the commanding officer of the 3rd Battalion Royal Regiment of Scotland Lt Col Stephen Cartwright, as well as a captain, two majors and a lieutenant, wrote letters of support for Sandeman, together with an NCO, describing him as an excellent soldier and offering to monitor his conduct if he was allowed to continue to serve in the regiment.

Highlands and Islands MSP Mary Scanlon welcomed the custodial sentence on Sandeman and described the Army's attitude to the case as "unbelieveable". She said: "The Army seems to think it's above the law. They clearly tried to keep this soldier, who had committed in the sheriff's own words reprehensible' acts against innocent children, out of prison. I am pleased the sheriff gave an appropriate sentence and sent this man to prison."

During the case at Inverness Sheriff Court, procurator-fiscal depute Ron Phillips told Sheriff Alexander Pollock that the character references put forward by Sandeman's officers contradicted the views expressed by social workers, who claimed the accused showed little remorse and even "gives the impression he projects responsibility on to his victims."

Phillips said he had "rarely seen such a weight of references before a court from men who hold fairly senior positions". He added: "They are better intended than they are well informed".

Scanlon said the Army's offer to monitor and support a convicted child molester was "the most worrying aspect" of the case. She said: "The Black Watch are now in Afghanistan. Although it may be possible to provide that support here in Inverness, how could they expect officers to provide support 24-7 when serving abroad?"

But a spokesman for the MoD defended the possibility of sex offenders being deployed abroad. "I don't think it's necessarily harder to keep track when they're in Afghanistan. There is a structure and a daily routine, it's not as if they're wandering around unguarded so don't see what being out there makes any difference.

"Yes, they will come into contact with children on patrol, but they wouldn't be alone. You have to look at the wider context. There are 180,000 serving in the British military, and only 32 are registered sex offenders."

The MoD said soldiers convicted of sex offences but not given custodial sentences would only be retained in the Army "in exceptional circumstances". The spokesman explained: "They are monitored and subject to notification requirements under the Sexual Offences Act.

"A panel assesses the soldier's employability and risk to others before any decision is taken as to whether they should be retained."

But questions are being raised over the judgement of Army commanders for attempting to retain a soldier facing a custodial sentence for serious sexual abuse on children, when governments both north and south of the border have repeatedly stressed that child protection must be at the centre of all policy.

One high-profile Scottish psychologist suggested it made a mockery of attempts to deal with child abuse when the body charged with defending and representing British interests abroad would willingly take a convicted paedophile under its wing.

Mairead Tagg, Scotland's only expert court witness on the abuse of women and children, said: "For me this is exactly the kind of collusion that per petuates sexual abuse. I think the MoD really need to be held to account for this. If they attempted to retain this soldier, and there are already 32 convicted sex offenders in the Army, you have to wonder what in God's name we've sent out to these countries. I'm sickened and appalled."

She added that it was virtually impossible to know the severity of crimes committed by those on the Sex Offenders' Register, since only rape was likely to guarantee a custodial sentence. "It's so difficult to achieve convictions that the charges are often watered down in an attempt to obtain a guilty plea."

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