Bognor Regis man gets ban on living with children lifted

A Bognor Regis man who abused a nine-year-old girl more than 30 years ago has convinced top judges to lift a ban on him living with children.

Iain Andreas Merritt was 17 when he subjected the youngster to “disgraceful and disgusting” abuse, exposing his genitals and encouraging her to touch them.

Merritt, now 49, of Southwark Walk, was caged for 16 months at Chichester Crown Court in June, 2011, after he was convicted of indecency with a child.

He was also hit with a sexual offences prevention order (SOPO).

It banned him indefinitely from living in the same premises as anyone under the age of 18, without their parents’ informed consent.

But three top judges at London’s Appeal Court have upheld a challenge by Merritt against the SOPO, saying his “isolated” offence did not justify the restriction on his liberty.

Lord Justice Davis said the offence took place in the early 1980s. As he abused the girl, Merritt told her: “There is nothing to be scared of.”

Merritt was finally arrested three decades later, when he vehemently denied any wrongdoing. He was, however, disbelieved by the jury.

The author of a pre-sentence report said Merritt continued to protest his innocence and ranked him as posing a medium risk of serious future harm to children.

Lord Justice Davis said it was “somewhat remarkable” that the author failed to properly consider the fact that the offence was a one-off.

Merritt had never committed sex crimes against anyone since.

On jailing him, the crown court judge described Merritt’s crime as “disgraceful and disgusting”.

But he also told Merritt: “The point has been made that, in those days, you were a very young man, very different from who you are now and, of course, I accept that.”

His barrister, David Rhodes, today argued that the SOPO was wrong in principle, given that Merritt’s offence was committed so long ago.

However, Beverly Cripps, for the Crown Prosecution Service, described Merritt as an “untreated sex offender” and argued that the SOPO was entirely necessary.

Police were concerned that removing the SOPO would make it harder to manage the risk he posed.

But Lord Justice Davis, sitting with Mr Justice King and Judge Michael Stokes QC, said the appeal should be allowed.

“Most particularly because this was an isolated offence which occurred some 30 years ago, when this man was 17, we do not think a proper conclusion could be drawn that the making of a SOPO was necessary,” he said.

“In such circumstances, we think that the right and fair course would be simply to quash the SOPO, and the appeal is allowed to that extent.”

The appeal judge pointed out that Merritt will remain on the sex offenders’ register and a blacklist designed to safeguard the vulnerable.