Current Affairs

Gay man sentenced for reckless HIV transmission

Marc Shoffman August 4, 2006
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The first gay man prosecuted for recklessly passing on HIV has been sentenced today, despite a warrant still being out for him.

Mark James of West Sussex admitted to the charges last April but failed to turn up for sentencing last week as well as today, prompting the Isleworth Crown Court judge to pass down sentence in his absence.

James was sentenced to three years and four months imprisonment with no recovery of defence costs.

He had been labelled “callous” for infecting his lover during a two year relationship, in which he failed to inform his partner of the disease.

His ex partner, who cannot be named for legal reasons, found out about the condition through a mutual friend.

Isleworth Crown Court found the 47 year old guilty of grievous bodily harm in April. He had initially pleaded guilty on the advice of his barrister but later was stopped from reversing it after questioning scientific evidence further.

Detective Constable Elliot Toms said: “He is a callous individual who has behaved in an unfaithful way. He gave us no indication as to his intent or motivation.”

Robert Ellison, defending, said: “If my client were here today he would doubtless express his shock and dismay at being in a criminal court.

“His condition has now become so advanced that he should be receiving a strict regime of treatment.

“There is no evidence that this was an act that was done maliciously and once they did both know they were infected they did stay together. The court is dealing with something that could become a powerful tool in the hands of disenchanted lovers.”

The court heard the couple had been together since 2003 and further into the relationship James told his partner who cannot be named for legal reasons that he had syphilis, despite testing positive for HIV.

Their sexual relationship continued and the partner later became ill and discovered he had the HIV virus, the court was told.

James later admitted knowing he had the virus but denied any earlier knowledge of it.

The partner told reporters outside the courtroom, “I felt betrayed. The hospital didn’t know what was wrong with me. When I found out the impact was huge.”

“Originally we had protected sex but Mark was keen to stop using condoms.

“I’m in no doubt that Mark did what he did maliciously, it was just another weapon because he had pretty much tried everything else.”

He added, “He is a compulsive liar, he’s been married and he’s cheated on partners before, I don’t think he really knows who he is. He is just a callous, nasty piece of work.”

“I’m not speaking for the gay community but I found the police to be completely naive about gay men and the kind of sex gay men have,” he added.

Judge Jonathan Lowen said in his summing up, “By his deceit and lies he kept his partner unaware of the risk.

“That was callous because he took no steps to prevent his partner from being in such jeopardy. The devastating implications of that were well known to the defendant when he made his partner a victim.”

The judge also said James’ absence was being taken into account.

In response to the sentencing today, Deborah Jack, Chief Executive of the National AIDS Trust, said: ‘”Where there is no evidence of deliberate intention to infect someone else with HIV, NAT does not believe criminal prosecutions are an effective way of reducing the transmission of HIV or protecting public health.

“The stigma and discrimination fuelled by such cases only make it more difficult for someone living with HIV to discuss their status with a new sexual partner and make disclosure less likely.

“Such prosecutions also encourage a dangerous complacency amongst HIV negative people, who are made to believe they can have sex without condoms unless someone tells them they are HIV positive. Prosecutions are a dangerous distraction from the real problem, that too few of us are practising safer sex.

“NAT is concerned that recent prosecutions have revealed a poor understanding of HIV amongst the courts, police and legal professionals. There is an urgent need for training in HIV issues for these groups to avoid miscarriages of justice.”

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