Leaders: Safety must come before rights of rapists

Restriction orders are supposed to severely limit an offender's ability to come into contact with likely victims. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Restriction orders are supposed to severely limit an offender's ability to come into contact with likely victims. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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Any act of rape is a vile and despicable crime, but that carried out by 22-year-old Daniel Welsh was particularly depraved. Over a two-hour period in February, he attacked and repeatedly raped a 25-year-old woman in Aberdeen at two separate locations some distance apart, threatening to shoot her if she did not accompany him.

This was a deeply sickening assault. His victim was terrified to an unbelievable degree and even though her physical wounds may have healed, she will bear the mental scars of Welsh’s violation for life. That she had the bravery to go to the police, enabling Welsh to be captured swiftly, is to her immense credit and hopefully a sign that she may, at least to some degree, be able to overcome her ordeal.

But what she, and the public, may not understand is why this man was on bail and under a restriction order for a previous offence when he committed this attack. He had been identified as a serious risk to women, so why was he apparently free to commit this appalling attack?

Restriction orders are supposed to severely limit an offender’s ability to come into contact with likely victims. The orders give police powers to limit movements, to impose a curfew severely curtailing an offender’s freedom to be outside their place of residence, and to use electronic tagging, surveillance and random checks to make sure the person is complying.

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The order was applied to Welsh because he was a known sex offender who was likely to offend again. But clearly it did not work and why it did not is a question that his victim and the public are entitled to demand an answer.

For this latest offence, the judge, Lady Rae, has ordered Welsh to be imprisoned for a minimum of four-and-a-half years and thereafter to be subject to an Order for Lifelong Restriction. It means that he will be subject to periodic risk assessments and restrictions. It is reasonable to suppose they will be broadly similar to those described above.

Again, the victim and the public are entitled to ask what confidence they can have that the conditions which supposedly made it impossible for Welsh to have committed this offence will give any greater safeguards once he is released.

In any criminal case, there is a balance to be weighed between the rights of an accused and the rights of the public to be safe. This rapist had a difficult upbringing which may well have contributed to him becoming a sexual predator, but that in no way should have permitted him to have greater liberty than his history of sexual offences, dating back some seven years, warranted.

And was bail appropriate? While Scots may wish their country to strive for an enlightened justice and penal regime, this case may confirm the view of many that there are some offenders for whom only the full deprivation of liberty is an adequate protection for the public.

Be prepared for cash squeeze ahead

Interest rates have been so low for so long that many people may well have become accustomed to thinking that they are permanent. No, they are not. The only questions that there are about interest rates are about when they will go up and by how much.

Most forecasts contend that interest rates will rise probably in the second half of next year with the cost of mortgages being the most obvious household expense such an increase will hit. If the Bank of England raises its base rate from the 0.5 per cent level where it has been fixed since March 2009 to, say, 1 per cent, then there will be a corresponding uplift of at least 0.5 per cent in the monthly interest payment demanded by mortgage lenders.

In a financial environment when many people are already struggling to meet regular bills and where real wages are not rising, the number of people who will not be able to meet the increased payment will rise. Others may be able to pay the bill, but only by cutting spending in other areas.

The release of estimates by the Bank of just how much difficulty there may be is the Bank’s way of signalling that it is time to get prepared for an increase. For people whose repayments are liable to rise to more than 40 per cent of their gross income, now is the time to be sensibly concerned and to think about what financial action should be taken to avoid financial distress.

It is also a reminder that austerity does not just mean public spending cuts, it also means individuals being hit. Despite economic recovery, much pain is still to come and it may be better to prepare for it. The certainty of interest rate rises should be taken into account now.

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