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Sexual Offences

The Sexual Offences Act 2003 updated the law, much of which dated back to 1956.

The main provisions of the Act include the following:

  • Rape is widened to include oral penetration
  • Significant changes to the issue of consent
  • Specific offences relating to children under 13, 16 and 18
  • Offences to protect vulnerable persons with a mental disorder
  • Other miscellaneous offences
  • Strengthening the notification requirements and providing new civil preventative orders

Find out more about how we prosecute sexual offences

Decision to Charge

Once the Police have completed their investigations, they will refer the case to the Crown Prosecution Service for advice on how to proceed. We will then make a decision on whether a suspect should be charged, and what that charge should be.

Find out more about private prosecutions

The Role of The Crown Prosecution Service

The Crown Prosecution Service is the government department responsible for prosecuting criminal cases investigated by the police in England and Wales.

As the principal prosecuting authority in England and Wales, we are responsible for:

  • advising the police on cases for possible prosecution
  • reviewing cases submitted by the police
  • determining any charges in more serious or complex cases
  • preparing cases for court
  • presenting cases at court

Find out more about the role of the Crown Prosecution Service

Man sentenced for 1990 attack on three young girls


William McMahon, 60, was sentenced today at Snaresbrook Crown Court to a total of 18 years and two months imprisonment for sexual offences committed on 29 June 1990.

The victims were three girls, two aged 13 and one aged 12. McMahon pleaded guilty on 25th April 2016, the first day of trial, to three counts of false imprisonment, three counts of indecent assault and one count of buggery.

Catherine Wear, CPS London reviewing lawyer, said: "More than 25 years after this horrific attack on three young girls William McMahon has now been sentenced for his crimes.

"On 29th June 1990 three girls had been innocently playing in an area known as Devil's Canyon in Plaistow, a disused mortuary where young people would often meet up and play.

"The defendant trapped the girls in the abandoned building, telling them to face the wall. He did everything he could to disguise his identity, including making the girls put their clothes over their heads and giving them false information about himself. This made it very difficult for the police to identify him at the time of the attack.

"McMahon was identified as the perpetrator of this offence in 2015 when a DNA sample was taken from him for unrelated matters. Through painstaking police work and a strong prosecution case justice has at last been done.

"Sadly one of the victims died in 2004 from an unrelated illness. I would like to thank the other two women for their support of this prosecution and we would like to recognise the courage shown by all the victims in coming forward to report these offences.

"The overwhelming evidence in this case left McMahon no choice but to plead guilty and accept responsibility for his crimes."


Notes to Editors

  1. For media enquiries call the CPS Press Office on 020 3357 0906; Out of Hours Pager 07699 781 926
  2. For the latest in breaking news from the CPS Press Office follow @cpsuk and visit our official News Brief -
  3. The CPS consists of 13 Areas in total, each headed by a Chief Crown Prosecutor (CCP). In addition, there are three national casework divisions: Specialist Fraud (formerly Central Fraud and Welfare, Rural & Health Divisions), Special Crime & Counter Terrorism and Organised Crime. CPS Direct is a 'virtual' 14th Area which provides charging decisions to all police forces and other investigators across England and Wales - it operates twenty-four hours, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
  4. At 31 March 2015 we employed a workforce of approximately 5,895 staff (full time equivalent), including around 2,255 prosecutors and 3,288 caseworkers and administrators. Further information can be found on our website:
  5. The CPS, together with police representatives (formerly ACPO) and media representatives, has developed a Protocol for the release of prosecution material to the media. This sets out the type of prosecution material that will normally be released, or considered for release, together with the factors we will take into account when considering requests. Read the Protocol for the release of prosecution material to the media.