A COURT has spared a man who had sex with a schoolgirl from an immediate prison sentence.
Judge Ian Grainger, sitting at Reading Crown Court on Friday, February 24, said he was taking the unusual step because he did not want to ruin Ashley Thomas Cane’s life.
Cane had promised a vulnerable 14-year-old marriage and children, but mocked her behind her back and branded her a “slut” to his friends, jurors were told during the trial in January.
At Friday’s hearing, it also emerged that Cane had committed contempt of court – by publicly identifying the girl, who is entitled to lifelong anonymity, on his Facebook page.
His friends had then heaped abuse on her and the lack of privacy settings meant anyone could read it and discover the victim’s identity, the court heard..
Cane, now aged 22, denied two counts of engaging in sexual activity with a child in 2014, but was unanimously convicted on both counts by the jury.
During the trial in January it was revealed that he repeatedly called her “princess; my baby girl, the love of my life”.
But in another social media exchange, this time with a male friend, Cane – who was living in Lambourn but later moved to Matthews Close, Thatcham – said: “She’s the meaning of ‘slut,’” the court heard.
He went on to mock her for falling in love with him and bragged of sex acts he had engaged in with her.
The trial heard the girl had been known to self harm and that officers found a used pregnancy test in her bedroom.
One of Mr Cane’s friends expressed shock in a text exchange, warning: “You’re a wrong ’un – she’s 14. Get out before the wrong kind of people find out. Just stay away... she’s just a kid.”
But Cane replied: “It’s cool.”
In his summing up during Friday’s sentencing hearing, Judge Grainger said he accepted that Cane had developed genuine, if fleeting, feelings for the child, but added: “This relationship was totally wrong. You took scandalous advantage of a very vulnerable young girl.”
He told the former Newbury town centre barman and trainee chef at the Berkshire Arms pub restaurant: “Let’s face it – you told that jury a pack of lies.”
And after reading pre-sentence reports Judge Grainger said: “Regrettably you continue to deny responsibility for these offences... in the face of the clearest evidence.”
Cane’s record includes shoplifting convictions, plus an offence of wounding in which he stabbed a man in the stomach with a kitchen knife in a row over a woman.
For that, he was sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment and Judge Grainger said: “I don’t doubt you were lying purely and simply because you don’t want to go back to prison.”
Aggravating features included the age discrepancy, the girl’s vulnerability, the risk of pregnancy from unprotected sex, his bragging to friends and the fact that Cane ignored two ‘child abduction’ notices from police.
Set against that, said Judge Grainger, was his apparent initial affection for his victim, his immaturity and the fact he was no longer taking drugs.
Judge Grainger said: “The guidelines suggest an immediate custodial sentence – unless that would not be consistent with the interests of justice.”
He added that he feared another bout of imprisonment could ruin Cane’s life.
Instead, Judge Grainger sentenced him to two years’ imprisonment, suspended for two years.
In addition, Cane must sign the Sex Offenders’ Register for 10 years, complete 150 hours’ unpaid community work, attend a sex offenders’ programe and pay a statutory victim services surcharge of £100.
At the sentencing hearing on Friday, it also emerged that, during the trial in January, Cane had named his victim on his Facebook page, after which his online friends heaped abuse on her and shared her identity.
Cane admitted a charge of being in contempt of court.
As the victim of a sexual offence, the girl is entitled to lifelong anonymity, as well as statutory reporting restrictions because of her age.
Matthew Walsh, prosecuting, said the offence was aggravated because the lack of privacy settings on Cane’s Facebook account had meant the information was available to anyone.
Clare Evans, defending, said her client admitted publishing the details but had not realised he was bound by the same law as journalists. He has since closed his Facebook page, she added.
Judge Grainger said: “During the course of the trial an article appeared in the Newbury Weekly News reporting – in proper terms – the proceedings in court.
“That appears to have given rise to a flurry of exchanges on Facebook between various acquaintances of Mr Cane and Mr Cane himself.”
He said that Cane had named his victim and added: “That is something he should not have done, given the reporting restrictions in place.
“However, I accept he didn’t realise he was subject to the same reporting restrictions on Facebook as the newspaper was.”
Cane was fined £150 for being in contempt of court on January 19.