‘Townsend case shows worthlessness of Sexual Offence orders’ - Lord Morrow

LORD Morrow has called into question the effectiveness of Sexual Offences Prevention Orders (SOP0) after the MAIL exposed a convicted sex offender’s attempts at running a charity event.

Last week we revealed how Magherafelt man Stuart Townsend was planning a ‘Take Me Out’ style event in Derry city which he claimed to be in aid of a children’s charity.

We exposed how the event was a farce, but only after Townsend, who was previously handed a jail sentence for sending sexually explicit texts to school boys, recruited scores of young people to take part, booked a former X-Factor star to perform and had taken ticket money from unsuspecting revellers.

Neither the police, Derry City Council or even the charity, the NSPCC, knew he was planning such an event.

Last Thursday the 20 year-old pleaded guilty to seven breaches of a SOPO, which bans him from having a mobile phone, between November 11, last year and January 17, this year. Six other charges of breaching the order were withdrawn by the prosecution at a hearing in Derry Magistrates Court on the same date.

But despite having the SOPO hanging over his head, Townsend, from Parkmore Road ran the now suspended ‘Derry’s Take Me Out’ Twitter page under his own name, talked openly about using a mobile and mobile phone messaging app Blackberry Messenger.

He even publicly ‘tweeted’ his alleged mobile number to one celebrity he tried to get on board for the event.

After reading the MAIL’s coverage of Townsend’s activities Lord Morrow he felt it was clear SOPO’s were not an “appropriate deterrent” to those ordered to adhere to them.

Lord Morrow said: “I have little confidence in the effectiveness of Sexual Offences Prevention Orders and the case of Townsend exemplifies exactly why I am sceptical.

“Having been made fully aware of what a SOPO means this man proceeded to breach his terms several times whilst student in a Belfast College. For this he is given a suspended prison sentence, then promptly goes out and repeats his previous behaviour whilst a student at another college. It would appear he is incorrigible.”

“SOPO’S put the onus of compliance on the offender and the first error should be the last. I have submitted numerous written questions to the Justice Minister in relation to SOPO’s and indeed to the Employment & learning Minister into the monitoring and handling of a student who is bound by a SOPO.

“Clearly there are some offenders who are abiding by the terms. A recent assembly answer showed there are presently 526 persons in Northern Ireland who are the subject of a SOPO. However in 2011, a total of 33 persons breached their SOPO’s and since the beginning of 2012, there have been 19 breach convictions. Presently 18 persons are facing charges of breaching SOPO’s.

“Monitoring agencies and designated risk managers should be doing more to ensure adequate supervision of those under a SOPO, and it would appear these orders are not acting as an appropriate deterrent.

Lord Morrow continued: “In the case of Townsend, there is a very obvious defiance going on, and I am extremely keen to learn what action is being taken to address the breaches. For persons with this type of “can’t catch me” attitude, it’s time to take a more robust stance, beginning with barring orders and compulsory tagging must be considered. This man has displayed an arrogance with sinister elements, and has placed others at risk.

“In addition there needs to be much stiffer sentences for those who breach SOPO’s, to ensure these orders are not just a paper exercise. Any breach of a court order is a serious matter but the case of Townsend has shown just how worthless SOPO’s are with some people,” concluded Lord Morrow.

Sentencing for Townsend was adjourned last week at Londonderry Magistrates Court for preparation of a pre-sentence report. He was released on continuing bail and will appear in court again on June 15.