Dangerous Plymouth paedophile may be set free by a legal loophole
A DANGEROUS paedophile from Plymouth who spent five years on the run could be freed again within weeks because of a legal loophole.
Rogue estate agent Alfred Palmer preyed on teenaged boys and fled to Turkey shortly before he was due to face trial in 2006.
He was tried and convicted in his absence and remained at liberty until he was arrested in Adana, Turkey in November 2009.
He then spent two years fighting extradition before being returned to Britain to start his sentence in November 2011.
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Now the 55-year-old's lawyers are mounting a series of legal challenges which could see him being freed.
Palmer originally received an indeterminate sentence for public protection (IPP) when he was jailed in his absence at Plymouth Crown Court in 2007 with a minimum term equivalent to a five-year sentence.
Palmer was found guilty of four indecent assaults against two teenage boys and the judge passed the indefinite sentence because he considered he posed a serious risk to the public.
The Judge, Francis Gilbert, QC, then realised that the IPP was not lawful because Palmer's offences pre-dated the legislation which introduced the sentence.
He changed it to a five-year term and the court register recorded this as the sentence.
However, Palmer's legal team have discovered a strange legal anomaly by which any correction of a sentence has to be made in the presence of the defendant.
Palmer was 1,000 miles away in Turkey at the time, so they say the original, unlawful sentence must stand and can only be overturned by the Court of Appeal.
His lawyers are also considering a challenge to the legality of his extradition in the High Court on the grounds that it was based on an invalid sentence.
Palmer, of Alcester Street, Stoke, appeared before Judge Gilbert again at Exeter Crown Court to ask him to send the case to the Court of Appeal, which he agreed to.
The former letting agent also faces an additional sentence for jumping bail, but that case was adjourned indefinitely.
Mr Malcolm Hawkes, defending, said Palmer would also argue at the Court of Appeal that the two years he spent in a Turkish prison while fighting extradition should count as part of his sentence, meaning he would almost certainly be due for immediate release.
He said: "A sentence pronounced in court can only be changed by the Court of Appeal, and they should also consider if the time spent in custody in Turkey should count towards his sentence.
"This case needs to be listed for an urgent hearing at the Court of Appeal."
Mr Andrew Maitland, prosecuting, said the case had to go to the Court of Appeal because any correction of a sentence has to be made within 28 days and with the defendant present.
Judge Gilbert said he expects the Court of Appeal to confirm the five-year sentence and to have little sympathy with Palmer's attempt to count his Turkish jail time, since it was his decision to fight and delay his return to Britain.
He said:"In my view the Court of Appeal will simply delete the IPP.
"As far as his time in Turkey goes, he could have come back in 2009."
In the original trial a jury heard how Palmer, and his partner Daniel Tapper, aged 56, preyed on two vulnerable teenage boys who were looking for a home after leaving council care.
Palmer ran a lettings agency in Mutley Plain and used his position to bully the young tenants.
He forced them to strip off and take part in sex acts as the price of them getting somewhere to live.
Palmer fled Britain in 2006 after persuading a judge to allow him to go on holiday to cope with the stress of his forthcoming trial.
He and Tapper were both traced to Turkey and arrested in 2009.
Tapper was brought back in early 2010 and sentenced to a further 36 months for jumping bail.