Sex attacks: Church elder is jailed

A church elder who avoided jail despite admitting a series of sex attacks on children has been sentenced to 18 months in prison following an appeal.

Michael Porter, a Jehovah’s Witness, preyed on 13 boys – including an 18-month-old baby – over the course of some 15 years, the Court of Appeal heard yesterday.

The 38-year-old, formerly of Portishead, but now living in north London, pleaded guilty to 24 counts of indecent assault and gross indecency on children.

In August, the Recorder of Bristol, Judge Tom Crowther, QC, handed him a three-year community rehabilitation order after hearing Porter had undergone therapy.

The Attorney General, Baroness Scotland, referred the sentence to the Court of Appeal as she considered it unduly lenient. And yesterday Lord Justice Gage amended the sentence to 18 months’ custody.

Porter’s sister Tina, 41, of Churchill Avenue, Clevedon, thought the original sentence “absolutely pathetic”.

She said yesterday: “In our eyes, he got away with what he’d done and we needed him to pay for what he did. The judge today brought home the fact that the victims and their families had their lives ruined.”

Peter Wright, QC, for the Attorney General, said Porter’s abuse involved him touching his victims, as well as pressing himself against them.

He said: “Some six families were affected by his conduct. Victim impact statements from three affected families contain details of the typical psychological and emotional effect that such offending can have on those directly or indirectly involved.

“This was a difficult sentencing task that the learned and extremely experienced judge faced. We submit he fell into error in viewing the sentence through the prism of the offender rather than the prism of the offences, culpability and harm that may have been caused by the offending.”

Mr Wright said Porter repeated offences from his adolescence to the age of 30. He said: “They were against the most vulnerable in society, opportunistic, and exploiting the position of trust he was placed in by those around him, both friends and associates at the church.”

Tabitha Macfarlane, for Porter, said it had been a difficult sentencing for Judge Crowther. She said: “In my submission, it was a reasoned and correct judgement.”

Miss Macfarlane told the court her client had gone to police and advised police of his offences.

Lord Justice Gage said he and his fellow justices had taken note of Porter’s relative youth at the time of his offences, his admissions to police, earliest possible guilty plea, remorse and lapse of time between the offences and the present day.

But he said: “These were serious offences, which involved young children and adolescents over a long period of time. They have to be marked by a custodial sentence.”

Detective Constable Lisa Finch, the police officer in charge of the case, said the force was pleased with the result. She added: “There is no indication the church was involved in any way or had prior knowledge of these offences.”

The catalogue of abuse came to light when one victim reported it to elders at the Jehovah’s Witness church in Portishead, where Porter’s family were members. Porter then confessed to members of the church, and later to police.

He remains barred from working with anyone under 18 and has to sign as a sex offender for 10 years. The court heard Porter was aware of yesterday’s hearing and had elected not to attend.

Lord Justice Gage ordered Porter, through his barrister, to go to a north London police station.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Thursday November 15, 2007.
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