Sex offender freed after court’s error

A JUDGE and two barristers failed to spot a drafting error that saw an “extremely dangerous” sex offender jailed for a crime that didn’t exist and freed after just two months behind bars.

In a case which caused much embarrassment to lawyers, convicted rapist David James Shields was charged with an offence repealed seven years before his trial and thus “unknown to law”.

And Appeal Court judges, who had little choice but to quash the 58-year-old’s conviction and free him, have lamented the pervert’s “futile” prosecution at public expense.

Shields, who served a 10-year jail term for rape in the 1990s, was handed a life-long Sexual Offences Prevention Order (SOPO) in 2005 after exposing himself to a woman on a beach, loitering in female toilets in Bexhill and making “lewd and suggestive” remarks to a 14-year-old girl at Bexhill Station.

In October last year, he was accused of stripping naked in front of a terrified woman on Hastings beach, touching her breast and pulling her head towards him as if to kiss her. He was prosecuted at Lewes Crown Court and jailed for nine months in March this year.

However, in May, Shields, of Cornwallis Terrace, Hastings, was freed by Mr Justice Maddison, who said it was “a woeful state of affairs” that Shields had been charged with an offence under a long-repealed statute.

“What is particularly disturbing is that this mix-up has occurred in the case of a man who there are grounds for believing is extremely dangerous. I make no bones about it”, the judge said.

Shields’ conviction was quashed in July and now top judges have revealed the extent of the blunder that cost the public purse thousands.

Lord Justice Rix said that, due to the error on the indictment, Shields had been charged with “an offence which he could not commit” and barristers for the defence and the Crown acknowledged that they had overlooked the defect.

The judge, sitting with Mr Justice Stadlen and Judge Martin Stephens QC, said: “It is unfortunate that an error in drafting the indictment, and the failure to observe it, have rendered the proceedings against Shields futile”.

Because the public remains protected by the indefinite SOPO, and Shields served two months of his sentence, the Crown did not seek a retrial.

The defective charge brought against Shields was for allegedly breaching a “sex offender order” under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 - a provision which was superceded by the 2003 Sexual Offences Act, which introduced SOPOs.

Ordering his release in May, Mr Justice Maddison said police viewed Shields as a “significant risk to female members of the public” and it was “disappointing to put it mildly” that noone spotted at his trial that he had been charged with a defunct offence.