Woman jailed after helping paedophile escape ... in a mobility car

Ian McDonald.
Ian McDonald.

A woman who helped a paedophile go on the run while a jury were considering his guilt was jailed for 14 weeks today.

Hayley Smith drove Ian McDonald to a station in his mobility car after he fled St Albans Crown Court yesterday saying: “I am off.”

McDonald, 39, had panicked when he thought the jury of eight women and four men were about to come back with a verdict. In fact they had a question for the judge.

Smith, who was McDonald’s carer, sat in the public gallery during the three-day trial. She was seen to drive McDonald away from the court and dropped him off at St Albans Station and he disappeared.

The judge issued a warrant for his arrest and a man hunt was launched by Hertfordshire police.

Smith, who lives in The Heights, Hemel Hempstead, returned to the court where she was arrested, brought before the judge and admitted a charge of contempt. Judge Stephen Gullick ordered that she spend the night in prison.

Later on Thursday the jury found McDonald, also of The Heights, guilty of indecently assaulting a three and a half year old girl in Hemel Hempstead in December 2002.

After they returned their verdict, with the dock empty, the judge told them: “The defendant has absconded. I have issued a warrant for his arrest.”

Defence barrister Elroy Claxton asked for McDonald to be sentenced in his absence, saying nothing would be gained by a report. McDonald had no previous sex offences on his record, but had convictions for dishonesty.

Judge Gullick jailed him in his absence for four years and said he must register as a Sex Offender for life.

He said: “This was an extremely serious offence against a young girl.”

Today Smith, 29, was brought to court having spent the night in Peterborough Prison. She had given the police a mobile number for McDonald and told the judge: “If I was aware of the consequences of the position I put myself in, it wouldn’t have happened.”

Smith, who had been his carer for four to five years, said McDonald had tried to escape earlier in the trial on Tuesday, but she had talked him round.

Sentencing her, the judge said: “You were his driver. You could have refused to take him. You facilitated his absence from the concluding part of the proceedings against him. This was a serious contempt.”