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UK minister says judge got paedophile sentence wrong

Written by: Staff
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LONDON, June 17 (Reuters) A junior minister has criticised a judge for giving paedophile Craig Sweeney a lenient sentence this week, contradicting her boss, the Lord Chancellor, and adding to a furore over the jail term.

Mr Vera Baird, a minister in the Department for Constitutional Affairs said the judge had got it wrong when he jailed Sweeney, to life, but told the 24-year-old he could be considered eligible for parole after five years.

Sweeney had admitted to kidnapping and sexually assaulting a three-year-old Cardiff girl.

On the BBC's ''Any Questions'' Baird said: ''I'm critical of the judge for three reasons -- one, starting (the sentence) too low; two deducting too much for the guilty plea; and three, getting the formula wrong.'' Mr Baird's comments were at odds with the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs Charles Falconer, who said on Thursday it was the legal system that was to blame rather than lenient judges.

''I don't believe it is the fault of the judge. I believe it is the fault of the system,'' he said.

Mr Falconer's intervention came after Home Secretary John Reid labelled Sweeney's sentence as ''unduly lenient'' and called for the government's top legal adviser, the Attorney General, to consider referring the case to the Court of Appeal with a view to obtaining a longer sentence.

Although Prime Minister Tony Blair supported Reid, his comments raised the issue of political interference in the judiciary and angered Attorney General Peter Goldsmith.

REUTERS SHB VV1604

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