Jail sentence for 70-year-old sex offender confirmed on appeal

The man had been jailed for three years by the lower court earlier this year after he had pleaded guilty to sexually abusing teenage boys

The court of Criminal Appeal has confirmed a prison sentence handed to a septuagenarian who was jailed for trading food and money for sexual favours with vulnerable teenage boys.

70-year-old John Zammit had been jailed for three years last August, after he pleaded guilty before a court of magistrates on charges of sexually abusing teenage boys in exchange for food or money. He had filed an appeal, saying the sentence was too severe and had not taken into account his age or his clean criminal record.

Madame justice Consuelo Scerri Herrera heard how John Zammit, a Valletta resident who worked at a pastizzi shop, would give two adolescent boys money or food in exchange for oral sex. The police had been notified by means of an anonymous tip off and had arrested the man.

The accused, who has four children, claimed to have become bisexual after being sexually abused by a priest and a policeman at a young age. He had sought a normal life “because he feared God,” he said.

Asked by the court whether he had ever had any sexual encounters with underage persons, he had said that on three occasions he had engaged in oral sex with a 17-year-old boy and would pay him €20 every time. There was also a Maltese 15 -year-old whom the man would perform sex acts in front of and a Somali 15-year-old with whom he would perform mutual oral sex. He had made sexual advances to a 13-year-old boy, but was rebuffed, he added.

Asked if he knew what he was doing was wrong, he had replied that he did and was sorry and would not repeat the acts. The court said it felt that the accused should be treated as a person whose mental faculties were not impaired.

The court quoted Lord Justice Lawton in the case R vs Sargeant: “Society, through the courts, must show its abhorrence of particular types of crime, and the only way in which the courts can show this is by the sentences they pass. The courts do not have to reflect public opinion. On the other hand they must not disregard it. Perhaps the main duty of the court is to lead public opinion.”

Whilst the appellant asked for a reform of his sentence, at no point did he show any sign of reform himself, noted the court, ruling that he therefore represented a threat to society because there is the possibility of him committing similar crimes again.

“The appellant who himself says he was the victim of abuse should have sought help at the proper time and not done the same, traumatising other young victims. Therefore this court wants to give a message to society that such charges are abhorrent and this abhorrence must be reflected in the sentence.”

There was no change in the behaviour of the appellant, who had not taken any steps to address his problem or sought psychiatric help, observed the judge. He never made any request for help. And although the accused was a first time offender, this did not mean that the court had to show clemency towards him, more so when taking into account the fact that the crimes he was found guilty of had shocked society, she said.

Ruling that the court must protect weak and vulnerable citizens from such crimes, the judge confirmed the man’s sentence in its entirety.