"HALF of all guilty paedos are let off, many despite crimes spanning decades... In total, of 1,174 paedophiles found guilty last year, only 643 were jailed, Ministry of Justice stats show."
The Sun, 3 May 2012
The Sun reported this week that a large amount of paedophiles are treated too leniently, supposedly showing that a large proportion of paedophiles are "let off", and that not enough of them are jailed.
It claimed that, of 1,174 paedophiles found guilty in 2011, 643 were jailed. The report should be taken in the context of the 'Sun says no to soft justice' campaign, with the article strongly implying that the supposedly low rate of paedophiles being jailed is down to 'soft judges'.
But to what extent are the numbers mentioned in the article accurate?
An immediate problem with checking the claim is that paedophilia is not in itself a criminal offence; a range of offences covers behaviours which could be considered to be paedophilic.
However there is evidence of what the Sun could be referring to when it talks of paedophilic offences. Under section 9 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 (SOA), anyone over the age of 18 commits an offence by sexually touching anyone under the age of 16.
The problem is that this approach over-simplifies matters — not least because people who are technically children can be found guilty of an offence. For example, a defendant does not have to be over a specified age for rape of a child under the age of 13 under section 5 of the SOA.
Similarly, offences under sections 9-12 of the SOA can, under section 13 of the SOA, be committed by people under the age of 18, but the maximum sentence is lowered.
In other words, paedophilia is a rather vague term. The Sun has regularly referred to paedophilia, but doesn't give us any detail beyond that.
So what statistics are available?
Table A4.5 of the 'Conviction Tables' supplementary table to the Ministry of Justice's 2011 Criminal Justice Statistics provides the most recent figures for the number of people convicted and cautioned for various sexual offences.
Looking at the breakdown of offences provided, it seems fair to take sexual activity with a child under 16, sexual activity with a child under 13, child prostitution and pornography, abuse of trust, and gross indecency with children as offences which can reasonably be considered as paedophilic.
While incest undoubtedly affects people under the age of 16, we don't have access to any kind of breakdown of the age of victims. As such, incest won't be included in the list of offences looked at here. The miscellaneous sexual offences row also includes grooming. There is no detailed breakdown of convictions per offence; as no exact figure can be found, grooming won't be taken into account.
The total number of people found guilty of offences which can be considered paedophilic can be found by taking the total of people "found guilty or cautioned" and removing the number of people who were simply cautioned (these numbers can be found at the end of each appropriate row). This shows that 1,199 people were cautioned for these offences in 2011.
The Sun's figure that 1,174 paedophiles were found guilty therefore doesn't match the definition supposed here.
While the difference can easily be explained away by pointing to the Sun potentially having used a different definition, the problem is that quite how this discrepancy has occurred isn't clear from the statistics at hand.
Of those found guilty, were half jailed?
Table A4.5 shows how many people were found guilty of these various offences, but don't show how many of them were jailed.
The 'Volume 5 — All Courts' supplementary table of the Criminal Justice Statistics shows how many people were sentenced to immediate custody for each offence in 2011.
Adding the total amount of people sentenced to immediate custody for the offences looked at here comes to a total of 695.
While this isn't the same as the Sun's figure, the 643 number can be reached by not including gross indecency with children or abuse of trust within the calculations — in other words, adding up sexual activity with a child under 16, sexual activity with a child under 13, and child prostitution and pornography takes us to a total of 643.
However, if this is the Sun's definition, it still doesn't add up to their figure for paedophiles found guilty. After contacting the Ministry of Justice, they also noticed that the number of people found guilty by this definition was not 1,174, but was in fact 1,121.
The Sun's basic point is that around half of people who are convicted of paedophilic offences are not jailed. The working adopted here found that 695 out of 1,199 people convicted of paedophilic offences were sentenced to immediate custody. This leaves only around 42 per cent who were not jailed.
The Sun's calculations suggest a narrower definition of padeophilia might be at work here - excluding 'Abuse of trust' and 'Gross Indeceny with Children'. However this leaves us with almost exactly the same proportion - just over two in five - cases of sexual offences not resulting in custody.
So the Sun needs to better define what it means by 'perverts' and 'paedophiles' in order for its readers to check the statistics it is putting forward. For now, Full Fact and the Ministry of Justice are at a loss as how the Sun arrived at its figures.