I THINK I probably struck a chord with most readers last week when expressing disappointment at the feeble length of Stuart Hall’s sentence for child sex crimes.
And, for that matter, with my incredulity at near identical sentences meted out for someone who smuggled a small amount of cannabis into a prison and someone who battered his wife to death.
A week on and I wonder whether I will find quite so much support for the view that I think the teacher Jeremy Forrest got a disproportionately heavy sentence.
Well, here goes.
Yes, the man is an immature fool who broke numerous golden rules of teaching, not least that vital one about maintaining a position of trust.
And yes, to have sex with a minor is a criminal act in this country which should be punishable, and yes, he did flee to another country with the girl which again is a serious offence.
He deserved the sack and probably some kind of custodial term. But five and a half years?
There are several mitigating factors even without making comparisons with cases where killers have received shorter jail terms than Forrest. One is that his victim was only a few months short of her 16th birthday. Had he waited those few months before beginning the relationship he would not now be branded a paedophile and not be in prison.
Had he run off with a girl yet to reach her teens and had sex with her then they would have been much graver crimes than the ones he committed.
I think this country has the age of sexual consent right, although it ought to be pointed out that many others have a lower one – for instance it’s only 13 in Spain, believe it or not.
The girl also went willingly with Forrest, and to this day claims she wants to marry him (and he her, for that matter, suggesting something rather different than pervy opportunism).
Her feelings may well in time change, and many a column inch has been written about the teenager’s intellectual immaturity and the “grooming” by a man twice her age which rightly have to be factored in any sentencing decisions.
But the courts should also credit the girl with some independence of thought, as they surely would if she had been an offender.
Minors as young as 10 can be prosecuted for crimes in England, by dint of which the law recognises that adolescents have minds of their own.
Ultimately, though, I return to the contrasts with other felons.
Look no further than Darren Pilkington who, 12 years ago helped his brother batter Hindley man Paul Akister to death. He got four years for ending that life, was out in far less and then went on to kill his girlfriend Carly Fairhurst. Was Mr Akister’s manslaughter really less serious in the eyes of the law than what Forrest did?
And why does a man having one consensual relationship with a girl almost no longer a child get jailed for more than five years and a serial predator like Hall who abused children as young as nine only get 15 months?