Daily Telegraph, Thursday 2 June 2016
In the last few years, we have discovered the grim truth that too many adult men have an unhealthy interest in children. They like looking at picture of girls who are still at school and too young to have sex, and the internet has made it easier than ever to get hold of such images. One of those men, it turns out, is called Patrick Rock, and until he was arrested a couple of years ago he worked for David Cameron.
Rock, who is 65, has now been found guilty of downloading indecent images of girls as young as 10 after a trial at Southwark Crown Court. He was convicted in relation to five images of girls aged between 10 and 14 in sexual poses, after denying child porn offences. They were among 20 images he downloaded onto his iPad over several days in August 2013 – this was no momentary lapse, in other words. Rock was acquitted of three other counts and the jury was discharged after being unable to agree on a further 12, which will lie on file.
The judge, Alistair McCreath, told Rock he was complicit in the sexual exploitation of the girls – and gave him a two-year conditional discharge on each count, to run concurrently. He must also register as a sex offender.
Have I missed something here? Rock was brought into Downing Street five years ago by Cameron, who appointed him deputy director of policy. He had previously been an advisor to the former Home Secretary, Michael Howard, where one of his tasks was working on policy to protect children from sexual abuse on the internet.
Let’s be clear about what this means: a man once trusted by Government ministers to think about how to protect children on the internet – and who is therefore more aware than most of the damage it inflicts – decided to download pictures of under-age girls in bikinis and hot pants. The judge in the case was in no doubt that Rock posed a threat to such young girls, imposing a sexual harm prevention order for two years.
This means that Rock is prohibited from using any device capable of accessing the internet, unless it also has the capacity to retain and display the user history, while any device he uses must also be available for inspection on request by a police officer. That doesn’t suggest McCreath believes Rock can be trusted.
What’s even more extraordinary about this case is that Rock will have to register as sex offender for two years, which hardly suggests his offences are trivial enough to deserve no more than a slap on the wrist. “The punishment for you is the loss of your reputation and your very public humiliation,” the judge told Rock. “It is a punishment which you brought on yourself but it is nonetheless a very real one.”
But is it? Loss of reputation is something many convicted offenders suffer but it is usually regarded as a side-effect, not a punishment in itself. As well as being unduly lenient, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the sentence was influenced by his former public position, and the notion that high-flyers have more to lose. What would have happened to a regular civilian who downloaded sexualised pictures of young girls? Would they have got away with a non-custodial sentence?
What this case is really about is the willingness of adult men to exploit children, regardless of the damage it does. The youngest of the girls in the pictures was aged 10 years and four months when Rock downloaded her picture, which meant she was even younger when it was taken.
Indecent images exist because men like Rock create a demand for them, and the judge’s argument that the girls were not actually naked doesn’t diminish the seriousness of the offences. It is treating under-age girls as sex objects that does the damage, regardless of what they are wearing.
The case raises questions about how seriously some elements of the criminal justice system regard the sexual abuse of children. Child sexual exploitation is a growing problem and even if Rock’s offences were at the lower end of the spectrum, they risk sending a message to other men that such behaviour – ‘just’ looking at under-age girls in sexual poses – is acceptable.
Not so long ago, Rock was entrusted by ministers with the job of trying to put a stop to other men doing exactly what he has now been convicted of. It is hard to imagine a greater breach of trust, either towards the government or the vulnerable children he was supposed to protect. It is simply inexplicable that this man – now a convicted sex offender – won’t spend a single night in prison.