Leniency sends out the wrong message

Surgeon-lieutenant Stuart Ruthven, now 27, a medical officer at HMS
naval base in Plymouth, first downloaded child pornography in 1999
as a university student. He eventually signed on as a submariner in
the navy for six years.

In 2002-3, police inquiries discovered that he had again used his
credit card to access websites and download images. In June 2003,
while on leave at his parents’ home, he continued to download
images, including ones of children in sexual activity with

In court he admitted 12 offences of making indecent images and was
given a risible 18 months’ community rehabilitation. He was also
banned from working with children under 16 and placed on a sex
offenders’ register, but only for five years.

Earlier this month, he was brought before the General Medical
Council. Although Ruthven had downloaded 3,800 images, the GMC,
incredibly, decided that such behaviour was “isolated, transitory
in nature and not for sexual gratification”.

Ruthven had described his activities as “a scientific quest”. He
said: “It was almost the thrill of the chase and perhaps I was
rebelling after so long at sea.” But how does that explain his
taste for paedophilia while an undergraduate? More scientific

Although Ruthven had been accessing child pornography over five
years, Alyson Leslie, head of the GMC’s disciplinary committee,
said the risk of him re-offending was “negligible”. Ruthven now
faces a navy inquiry but his superior officer, Captain Nicholas
Morgan, said: “I am confident that he is not only remorseful, he is

It is said that Ruthven is unlikely to offend again, so his
punishment is light. Exercising the benefit of the doubt, as
happens so often when child pornography figures, is completely
inappropriate in this of all crimes, associated as it is with
compulsive behaviour.

It also sends the message that the future of the consumer of
pornography – his career and standing in the community – is more
important than the fate of the horrifically damaged nameless
children who are forced to provide the images for his “scientific

Over a 12-month period, every court decision and sentence passed
involving child pornography should be monitored and analysed. The
men who satisfy their sexual appetite by feeding on child victims
will be revealed as enjoying more second, third and fourth chances
than any decent human being has a right to expect.

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