Two street drinkers who engaged in an act of public indecency outside a Worthing shopping centre have been jailed.
Richard Dawkins, 49, of Northbrook Road, Worthing, and James Pannel, 52, of Mansell Road, Shoreham, were each given 16-week sentences for outraging public decency at Brighton Magistrates’ Court this morning (May 15).
Both had pleaded guilty to the charges, which related to an act of public indecency that took place outside the Guildbourne Centre on the afternoon of Tuesday, April 23.
Chairman of the bench Ian Goodwin said several aggravating factors meant an immediate prison sentence was appropriate.
“The nature of the offence was not pleasant and completed with complete disregard for the shock and distress you inevitably called to the public,” he said.
“You are at a high risk of sexual offending and had limited engagement with probation.”
A statement from an eyewitness said she was over the road from the pair and saw one man standing in front of another who was sat on a bench.
“I then saw a young man starting to run across the road and realised that the man standing was receiving oral sex from a man seated on the bench,” the statement said.
The court heard that on April 23, Pannel, who has a previous conviction for engaging in sexual activity in a lavatory, had drunk one-and-a-half litres of vodka before sitting on the bench outside the Guildbourne Centre.
According to his defence counsel, Louise Walls, Pannel had no recollection of the events that followed.
Ms Walls said Pannel had obliviously returned to the Guildbourne Centre the next day, where he was shouted at by passers-by and realised ‘something seriously wrong’ had happened.
After being arrested later that day, he was shown video footage of the incident and said ‘it definitely looks like me’, but maintained he had no memory of it.
Ms Walls said he had been shocked and disgusted by his actions and shown significant remorse and a willingness to engage with alcohol rehabilitation programs – a claim refuted by his probation officer, who did go on to concede that he was a ‘very vulnerable individual’ who would benefit from a rehabilitation programme.
Dawkins’ defence counsel Mark Rogers said his client, who the court heard has 26 previous convictions including gross indecency towards a child on two occasions in 1991, said he ‘got caught up in the moment’ and deeply regretted his actions.
He said he had been punched during the incident after a member of the public tried to intervene and had received threats and abuse in the aftermath once footage was widely shared on social media.
Dawkins was also in breach of two ongoing community orders – one for assaulting an emergency worker and one for convictions of theft and assault.
Summing up, Mr Goodwin said the pair’s sentences had been reduced from 24 weeks due to their guilty pleas, but both would be monitored for 12 months once released. Both were also ordered to pay a £115 surcharge.
In a statement released after the sentencing, Adur and Worthing Chief Inspector Miles Ockwell described the incident as particularly shocking.
“Our immediate response in making the arrests is an example of the robust action we take against those who commit crime and anti-social behaviour in Worthing town centre,” he said.
“The pair were quickly charged and dealt with robustly by the courts.
“Anti-social behaviour is something we are working to tackle closely with our partners and I am proud of the partnership approach we take to it.
“We understand there have been a lot of comments on social media on various community groups regarding issues with anti-social behaviour in Worthing town centre. Please report any such behaviour to us immediately. There are a number of ways to report to us – dial 999 if the crime is in action, call 101 or report online.
“The individuals involved in antisocial behaviour are the minority and we know who they are. Rest assured they are dealt with robustly when we are aware of crimes being committed. We are determined to not let a small number of people disrupt others enjoyment of our town.”