A 91-year-old man [Eric Grant] has been sentenced to ten years in jail for his sexual offences against a young girl almost two decades ago.1
In 1990, a Conservative white paper concluded: “We know that prison ‘is an expensive way of making bad people worse’.”1
Judge Hurst sentenced 91-year-old Eric Grant to ten years imprisonment for sex crimes. He rigorously applied sentencing guidelines. Yet! It feels like a tragic lack of imagination. Perhaps Grant’s sentence could have been more nuanced?
The primacy of prison as the default option began in 1823. Prior to then punishments were quick and brutal. “In 1823, Sir Robert Peel abolished the death penalty for over 180 crimes. Further laws in 1832 and 1861 reduced the number of capital crimes to just five:”2 Transportation, as an alternative to prison and execution, ended in 1868. For foreign nationals’ a form of transportation has been reintroduced. Nowadays ‘transportation’ is used against some asylum seekers and foreign criminals. “A foreign criminal is defined as a person who has been convicted of an offence and sentenced to 12 months imprisonment in the UK”.3
Judge Hurst may have wanted to avoid imprisoning Grant but every available option had significant constraints, limiting his freedom of action.4 If the judge had failed to follow sentencing guidelines, his sentence could have been appealed against. This unwelcome adverse publicity might have damaged his career prospects. Therefore, Grant got ten years.
Germany is still dealing with aftermath of the Holocaust. A 97-year-old woman was sentenced for complicity in mass murder. She wasn’t imprisoned despite being found guilty. A German district court sentenced, “Irmgard Furchner [to] a two-year suspended sentence for aiding and abetting the murder of 10,505 people and the attempted murder of five people…”5 Grant’s offences are on a different scale to those of Furchner who was complicit in mass murder. If Germany acknowledges age as a factor in sentencing why doesn’t Britain?
More dramatically an Iranian woman exercised her right to pardon the man convicted of murdering her son as his public execution was beginning.6 She pardoned her son’s killer. Britain’s Victim Impact Statement7 doesn’t compel sentencing action. A victim asking for a criminal to be pardoned won’t succeed. Victim statements contribute to sentencing as one factor. In Grant’s case the offence was intensely personal and the victim statement should compel but doesn’t. Did she want Grant to get ten years in prison, or, was she satisfied with his post-trial vilification?
Blood Money8 is an ancient mechanism for compensating victims and their families. It is calibrated according to the offence. Rolf Harris was a geriatric, 84, rich criminal when he was imprisoned. Paying Blood Money would have had a lesser impact for him than for Grant. Harris’s wealth can be gauged from this, “In late 2020, RHE Investments Ltd., a firm set up by Rolf in 2012, reported a bottom line of 2.6 million pounds.”9 His victims would have benefited but he wouldn’t have been financially inconvenienced, which feels unjust.
Imprisoning 91-year-old criminals is a waste of money10 but society needs to support victims and geriatrics can’t be allowed ‘to get away with it’. The concept of proportionality is an important element in justice but shouldn’t constrain creative thinking. Geriatrics should be punished. There are elegant options, which should be explored. And justice won’t be compromised.
1 91-year-old jailed for 10 years for non-recent sexual offences | Essex Police The second quote comes from Hard evidence: does prison really work? (theconversation.com)
2 Retribution and deterrence from the 19th to 21st century – Attitudes to punishment – WJEC – GCSE History Revision – WJEC – BBC Bitesize
3 What is the UK’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda? – BBC News See also Deportation of Foreign Criminals From The UK & Their Human Rights (rkb-law.co.uk)
4 Suspended sentences – Sentencing (sentencingcouncil.org.uk) For electronic tags see Tagging | Prison Advice and Care Trust For parole see Parole – Wikipedia Here Judge Hurst would have had to sentenced Grant to prison and then strongly suggested he be paroled immediately.
5 Former concentration camp secretary, 97, convicted of Nazi war crimes | Reuters
6 Iranian mother who spared her son’s killer: ‘Vengeance has left my heart’ | Iran | The Guardian
7 Victim Personal Statement – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
8 Blood money (restitution) – Wikipedia
9 Where is Rolf Harris now? He enjoys a secluded life – TheNetline
10 Revealed: the cost of living in prison – insidetime & insideinformation On average costing, “taxpayers around £45,000 to keep a person in prison for a year, most of this money goes on staffing.” Grant’s life expectancy is four years implying his imprisonment will cost about £180,000