Fury over ex-mayor's reduced sentence

A FORMER Suffolk mayor and police committee chairman has been jailed for indecently assaulting a desperately-ill patient at the hospital where he was a carer.

A FORMER Suffolk mayor and police committee chairman has been jailed for indecently assaulting a desperately-ill patient at the hospital where he was a carer.

But Colin Jones – a past mayor of St Edmundsbury borough council and chairman of the Suffolk Police Committee – won a reduction in his sentence thanks to his high public profile.

Judge Simon Barham, sentencing Jones at Norwich Crown Court yesterday, jailed the disgraced ex-Liberal Democrat politician for eight months and put his name on the sex offenders register for 10 years.

The judge told Jones – who had been reprimanded for "inappropriate behaviour" towards a woman patient only months before the sex assault last May – the humiliation of his conviction was greater punishment than for others who had not had such a public life.

He added: "I accept that the penalty of imprisonment will be very grave indeed and, for these reasons, reduce the custodial sentence."

But a spokeswoman for WomenAid International, a humanitarian agency set up to campaign against violations of women's human rights, said the judge's decision sent out the wrong message.

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"I can't imagine how his humiliation because he served in public life is relevant – what about the humiliation of the patient?" she said.

"This is not fair justice for everyone. If I were the victim, I would be disgusted. It makes one feel saddened and angered at the failure of the judicial system to protect the victims."

Jones' victim – who suffers from a "life-ending" disease that affects her joints, muscles and lungs – was bedridden at West Suffolk Hospital, Bury St Edmunds, when she was indecently assaulted.

She was too ill last night to comment on the sentence handed to Jones, 56, of Dane Common, Kedington, Haverhill, who resigned from the hospital and who was until Thursday a cleaner at a college.

Judge Barham told Jones – who had denied, but was found guilty of, a single count of indecent assault by a jury last month – that his offence had been so serious that there was no alternative to imprisonment.

He added: "Your victim was a patient in your care. She was a middle-aged woman in pain. Your duties involved helping her wash and you took advantage of her vulnerable position.

"The jury found she did not consent. She was too unwell to resist or protest. You were in a position of trust and took advantage of her vulnerable position. This is a serious offence."

Jones, who will serve a maximum of half of the eight-month prison sentence, showed no emotion as he was led from the dock.

Adam Budworth, mitigating, had earlier told the court the West Suffolk Hospital should shoulder some of the responsibility for Jones' crime.

He said it was considered "lamentable" by existing and former staff that male carers were not chaperoned while treating women patients in circumstances similar to the one that led to Jones' conviction.

"If there were chaperones, then it is certain this would never have got before the court," added Mr Budworth.

But after the case, a hospital spokesman said: "There should not be a need for chaperoning if health care support workers behave professionally and according to the code of conduct under which they are expected to perform their duties.

"That's what Colin Jones should have done and that's what he was reminded and retrained on after the first alleged incident."

The court was also told of people who had written to support the former politician, who was chairman of the Suffolk Police Committee – now the Suffolk Police Authority – in the mid-1990s and the first Liberal Democrat mayor of St Edmundsbury.

The list of those who highlighted his devotion to public duty included the present mayor of St Edmundsbury, Brian Bagnall, councillors who served with him on Suffolk County Council, St Edmundsbury council and members of the Royal Naval Association.

Residents from his home village had also posted a letter of support outside a local shop, the court heard.

Speaking after the hearing, Detective Constable Nigel Gregory, of Suffolk police, who investigated the case, said: "I'm happy with the findings of the jury and the sentencing speaks for itself.

"The defendant was in a position of trust which was abused and he must suffer the consequences of what he did."

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