PEOPLE found guilty of committing violent sexual crimes such as rape against a child should receive custodial sentences as the default position regardless of their age, Scottish Labour has said.

The party is calling for an end to a policy for 18 to 25 year olds which mean some in that age group escape prison terms even if they have been convicted of serious offences.

Its intervention comes in the wake of rapist Sean Hogg receiving a community payback order after being found guilty of raping a 13 year-old girl in Dalkeith Country Park, Midlothian grabbing her by the wrists before committing the attack. 

Hogg, now 21, was convicted of raping the girl when he was 17. Currently, guidance states that those found guilty who are under the age of 25 should have a presumption against receiving custodial sentences.

READ MORE: Yousaf says he understands concerns after rapist Hogg avoids jail

Scottish Labour has said that there are questions to be asked over why Hogg's age was taken fully into consideration but the much younger age of the victim seems to have been disregarded.

The party said that custodial sentences are appropriate for those found guilty of violent sexual crimes and Scotland must have zero-tolerance for violence against women and girls.

“Like thousands of other Scots, I was deeply concerned to hear that a rapist did not receive a custodial sentence for his heinous crime," said Scottish Labour justice spokeswoman Pauline McNeill, pictured below.

The Herald:

“As a society we must have zero-tolerance for violent sexual crimes against women and girls.

“It is simply wrong that someone who commits such a vile crime is not seriously considered for a custodial sentence. We need answers now from the Scottish Government over whether ministers approved of the guidelines which led to this individual receiving a community payback order.”

Using new punishment guidelines the judge, Lord Lake, said that Hogg had been spared jail because he was under 25, stating he would have received a prison sentence of up to five years if he had been older. Instead he was ordered to carry out 270 hours of unpaid work.

New guidelines introduced last year state that the brain has not fully developed until the age of 26 and there should be a presumption against prison for younger suspects.

Hogg was found guilty by a jury at the High Court in Glasgow, with the judge saying “rape is one of the most serious crimes” but that he had to have regard to his “age as a factor”.

“This offence, if committed by an adult over 25, [would] attract a sentence of four or five years,” the judge said during sentencing.

“I don’t consider that appropriate and don’t intend to send you to prison. You are a first offender with no previous history of prison: you are 21 and were 17 at the time. Prison does not lead me to believe this will contribute to your rehabilitation.”

Hogg was also placed under supervision and put on the sex offenders’ register for three years.

Last week Sandy Brindley, chief executive of Rape Crisis Scotland, said a community sentence for rape was “worryingly lenient”. She said that the organisation was “concerned about the message this case sends about how seriously the Scottish justice system takes the crime of rape”.

The Crown Office has said it was considering the sentence and the potential for an appeal.

Last year the Scottish Sentencing Council, an independent advisory body, recommended an “individualistic approach” for under-25s which takes into account their life experiences. It argued that the proposed changes would help to reduce reoffending.

“Research shows that a young person will generally have a lower level of maturity, and a greater capacity for change and rehabilitation, than an older person,” the council said. “Sentencing guidelines are not straitjackets and each independent judge or sheriff will decide on a sentence based on the unique circumstances of a particular case.”

First Minister Humza Yousaf, who was justice secretary under Nicola Sturgeon, said last week he could understand the sense of “astonishment” felt by Rape Crisis Scotland after learning about Hogg’s sentence for rape.

He added: “We don’t want people to be in that revolving door of going from prison, out in the community and back again. But of course in this case, in a case where someone’s been convicted of rape, I can completely understand the concerns that people have got about the sentence that has been given in this particular case, but again it is for the judiciary to make a determination the same as it is for the crown to independently make a decision about whether to challenge that as being unduly lenient or not.”