Stevenage devil worship prankster ‘too vulnerable’ for jail time

Robert Townsend

Robert Townsend - Credit: Archant

Magistrates made a devil worship prankster sweat in the dock today for nearly an hour before deciding not to send him to prison because he was considered too vulnerable.

Robert Townsend

Robert Townsend - Credit: Archant

Robert Townsend arrived at Stevenage Magistrates’ Court this afternoon to discover how he was going to be punished after pleading guilty to two offences of religiously aggravated harassment without violence in Stevenage against Glen and Jeannette Larkins.

Townsend, of Stirling Close, had placed the posters around Stevenage between February and April 2013 and again in April last year which said that Mr Larkins was a devil worshipper.

After considerable deliberation, chairman of the bench David Pratt sentenced the 55-year-old to 12 weeks in prison – suspended for a year – and said: “The reason we have been so long and we have heard from Miss Oborne (Townsend’s laywer) about these reports is because we think these offences cross the custodial threshold.

“The fact it has been uplifted from a community order to a custodial sentence is down to the religiously aggravated nature of the offences and the length of time you targeted Mr and Mrs Larkins.”

The posters invited people to come along to a sacrificial evening at St Nicholas Church’s graveyard in Rectory Lane and read: “When the church tower strikes midnight there will be a live rooster sacrifice and blood drinking in accordance with the Satanic Rites of our Great Lord Lucifer. This will be followed by fornicating fun for all the family.”

They named the master of ceremonies as Mr Larkins, gave his full address and called him ‘Britain’s number one onanist’ – an old-fashioned term for masturbation.

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The court heard this was the latest in a long line of abuse the couple had received from Townsend.

It started in 1985 when Mrs Larkins left Townsend, after a very brief relationship, for Mr Larkins.

Townsend couldn’t let go and over the next 29 years sent the couple and their family junk mail, often inviting them to swingers’ parties which said they were organised by Mr Larkins and signed under his nickname, Hegarty.

Prosecuting Elaine McMillian said there has been an ongoing problem which stretched back to when the three were friends and the religious abuse may be down to the fact that Mr Larkins was a Catholic and Townsend knew he would be embarrassed by the posters.

She added: “Mr Larkins is a Catholic and was registered with a church in Stevenage. His daughter was brought up a Catholic and went to a Catholic school so he found it very disrespectful to be linked to black magic posters. He is no longer in contact with his priest.

“Many years ago Mr Larkins told the defendant that being linked to black magic would be particularly embarrassing because of his religious beliefs.”

In a statement read out by Mrs McMillian, he said: “I just want to be free to get on with my life. I need it to stop.”

She added: “There was quite phenomenal amount of stress. I do not think the court can underestimate it.”

Defending, Jenny Oborne said: “I am sure you have read both the reports on Mr Townsend. He is concerned that his medical reports remain private.

“The matter he has been charged with is in respect of the posters and it is for these offences only that he has entered a guilty plea.”

She asked the court to bear in mind what the reports said and not set her client up to fail.

The magistrates then retired for around 20 minutes while they decided on Townsend’s punishment.

When they returned, Mr Pratt said: “We have gone back over the two reports and we must remind you that these were all options reports and I think all options do remain.

“We now want you to address the court and, unless you otherwise persuade us, we will impose an immediate custodial sentence.”

This was challenged by Miss Oborne who said that the report identified Townsend as being too vulnerable to go to prison.

Mr Pratt accepted this and the bench retired again for around half an hour while it reconsidered the sentence.

When they returned they gave Townsend the suspended sentence, a year long community order and made him £165 in court costs and a victim surcharge. These will be paid out of his benefits at £5 a week and start on Thursday, June 19.

Townsend was also given an indefinite restraining order against the couple and cannot contact them directly, indirectly or create or publish any material about them.

He had been due to be sentenced on Tuesday, April 28, but this was delayed while a six-week physiatric report was carried out into Townsend’s mental state.

The Comet approached Townsend after the hearing for a comment but he declined.