A former police officer and “respected” athlete has been sentenced to 15 years behind bars for sexually exploiting his daughter and committing incest.
Such offences in Bermuda are “fast becoming an epidemic”, according to prosecutor Cindy Clarke — and charity Saving Children and Revealing Secrets (Scars) says the problem is being brought “out of the shadows”.
The 37-year-old Warwick man, who cannot be named because it could identify the victim, was convicted of sexual exploitation of a young person while in a position of trust and three counts of incest at a previous court appearance in June — he maintained his innocence throughout the trial, but was found guilty on all four charges by a jury.
The court heard that the abuse began in 2011, when the complainant was 15 years old, and continued on a monthly basis up until ten days before her 18th birthday.
During the sentencing yesterday in Supreme Court, Puisne Judge Carlisle Greaves described it as the saddest case he has had to preside over, “outside of cases involving death”.
“I say that this is a sad case because so much has been, is and will be lost because of it,” he added.
Mr Justice Greaves said the defendant was a man with a “promising and long career in the Police Service,” as well as a “promising and long-serving athlete”.
He added that the victim now has to “live with the knowledge that she has been sexually exploited by her own father”.
Ms Clarke, the deputy director of public prosecutions, said the defendant, who was a “respected policeman with almost 20 years of service”, had “shown no remorse at all”.
As she called for a six- to ten-year prison sentence, Ms Clarke said that the Island is seeing an “extraordinary increase” of such cases and that a deterrent is needed to “stunt the tumour of sexual offences in our society”.
Scars founder and executive director Debi Ray-Rivers told The Royal Gazette this rise is a result of increased awareness, education and reporting.
“We believe that child sexual abuse has always been a big problem in Bermuda,” she said. “It is reassuring to know that the system can work when it comes to the protection and safety of our children.
“This is an example where the system has held a perpetrator accountable for violating the innocence of a child and that we cannot assume that a person’s role in a family or community will necessary make a child safe.
“Our hope is that this child and her family receive the healing they rightly deserve. The hope going forward is that we can all learn how to prevent child sexual abuse in Bermuda.”
She said the organisation has been advocating for tougher and more appropriate sentencing for child sexual abuse since its inception.
Mr Justice Greaves said cases of this nature are among the saddest, “not only for the parties involved, the complainant, the defendant, relatives and supporters, but also for society and very much so for presiding judges, particularly when it comes to the issue of sentencing”.
The court heard that the maximum sentence for sexual exploitation of a young person while in a position of trust is 25 years and seven years for incest.
Defence lawyer Marc Daniels, however, said the seven-year maximum sentence “is not a punishment typically given to a first-time offender”.
He argued that this should be reserved for more egregious cases and that a sentence of seven to nine years would be appropriate.
Mr Daniels said his client had led an “exemplary life” and that his punishment will be one of isolation because “as a police officer, there is a requirement that he has to be put in segregation”.
The defendant did not speak, except to ask for mercy on his sentence.
Mr Justice Greaves, who remarked that the father-daughter relationship is “one of the closest relationships possible to mankind”, took issue with the sentencing submissions by both the Crown and the defence.
He pointed to the case of former police officer John White, who was sentenced to 25 years’ imprisonment for sexually abusing three boys.
White’s sentence was later reduced to 18 years by the Court of Appeal.
Mr Justice Greaves questioned how the defendant in this case could be sentenced to nine or ten years in prison, if White received an 18-year sentence.
He also noted that the maximum sentence for the sexual exploitation offence is far greater than the maximum sentence for incest, which he said is “inadequate in this jurisdiction”.
According to Mr Justice Greaves, the White case “changed everything in Bermuda when it came to sexual offences, particularly those involving children”, but incest and buggery laws were not amended when the penalty for sexual exploitation was increased.
He said he would invite Parliament to consider revisiting the sexual offences laws and whether it is appropriate to increase the penalties for incest and buggery to bring them in line with those for sexual exploitation.
Mr Justice Greaves sentenced the defendant to three years’ imprisonment for sexual exploitation and five years for the first instance of incest, with the sentences to run consecutively. He added another six-year sentence for the second incest charge, which is to run concurrent with a final seven-year sentence for the last instance, but consecutively to the other sentences.
“Fifteen years is not unreasonable in the circumstances,” Mr Justice Greaves concluded, adding that time already served will be taken into account.
Approached by The Royal Gazette yesterday, Commissioner of Police, Michael DeSilva, said he stands by his previous comment that it was “particularly disheartening” that the offender was a police officer with several years of service.
He added that the Bermuda Police Service treats offences committed against children very seriously.
By Lisa Simpson The Royal Gazette