Durham student rape acquittal sparks talk of criminal law reform

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Should we bring back anonymity for accused rapists?


The law on the anonymity of defendants has come under scrutiny once again, after a Durham Uni student’s life was “devastated” by false rape allegations.

This week, 21 year-old Louis Richardson, a Durham history undergrad and former head of the university’s debating society, was cleared of rape and sexual assault.

Richardson was accused of raping a woman when she was “crazy drunk”, and sexually assaulting another at a student party.

The accused firmly denied the charges. He admitted having had consensual sex with his ‘victim’, and claimed that her boyfriend encouraged her to make up the complaint.

Philippa McAtasney QC of Furnival Chambers, defending Richardson, described his alleged rape victim as:

[A] highly manipulative, dishonest, dangerous young woman.

On Tuesday, Richardson was acquitted at Durham Crown Court by a jury that took just over two hours to reach a verdict.

Being falsely accused of rape is no doubt rare, but these allegations can have a serious, long-term impact on the suspect.

Though cleared of all offences, the bright student’s life has reportedly been “devastated” by these allegations. A statement released on behalf of the Richardsons described the experience as “absolute hell for the whole family.”

Debate is stirring — as it often does after a case like this — about whether anonymity should be granted to defendants, at least in cases of a sensitive subject matter.

Currently, victims of sexual offences are granted full anonymity, but the same protection is not available to suspected offenders. This has not always been the case — in the 1970s anonymity was introduced for accused rapists, but this was later repealed in 1988 for fear that victims were being discouraged from coming forward.

There is an indisputable level of support for the pre-1988 rules to be reinstated, or at least reconsidered.

Nigel Evans — leading Conservative MP and former deputy speaker — has pushed for a change in the law of sexual offence trials. As someone who himself was cleared of rape in 2014, Evans has serious doubts about whether Richardson’s case should have ever reached the courtroom, let alone hit the press. He said:

We can’t know everything that the jury knew but they took less than three hours on the basis of the evidence. It begs the question: why did this case ever go to court?

He continued:

After these kinds of case, [the Crown Prosecution Service] and the police go into defensive mode. I understand where they are coming from, but we do need to look again at why this went to trial. Did they get it wrong?

And he’s not alone. Anonymous legal blogger the Secret Barrister has described himself as “very much in favour” of keeping the identity of accused sexual perpetrators hidden. He told us:

Affording anonymity until conviction would not only protect the reputations of the acquitted, but would ensure that prosecutorial decisions can be taken without consideration of popular opinion or media or political pressure.

So, given this undeniable raft of support, is a change in the law around the corner?

Maybe, but maybe not.

Mark Fenhalls QC, the chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, has spoken out about the need to review the current legislation. He told The Times‘ law newsletter The Brief:

There is an argument, at least, that anonymity should be looked at.

However, it’s not all black and white. There is a strong argument that granting anonymity may compromise the openness of the criminal justice system, and the job of the legislator is to get this balancing act right.

These concerns are echoed by Felicity Gerry QC, who herself thinks that reform would be detrimental. When Legal Cheek spoke to the criminal barrister, she told us:

Reports of the trial tend to suggest that [Richardson] was well represented and that he took the opportunity to give evidence. That is what trials are for. Better to have a public conviction or acquittal than gossip and rumour.

But is there a middle way?

Max Hardy, a criminal barrister at 9 Bedford Row, seems to think so. Describing anonymity of suspects as “a very vexed issue”, Hardy told Legal Cheek:

It seems to me that one practical solution would be a presumption in favour of anonymity until conviction with a discretionary power reserved to judges to allow publicity upon application and submissions.



What on earth are you talking about? Since when has there been a ‘minimum time limit’ before a jury can return a unanimous verdict? The only time a minimum time limit is if the jury cannot reach a unanimous verdict and are to receive a majority direction.



This woman was found to be a liar and that amounts to perjury – she should be charged accordingly….



Yes keeping their identity private till proven guilty needs to happen. A man at my university was accused of rape everybody knew who he was and he was also suspended from uni. The girl admitted to lying stating that she had a one night stand with this man but had a boyfriend didn’t want him to find out and accused this man of rape. This poor man was innocent but because he had already been accused he still had he label of rapist even though he was innocent.



The exact same thing happened at my Uni. Was so awful and damaging.

…maybe we went to the same Uni…


Bar Student

Before expressing an opinion, I must declare an interest.

During my undergraduate days, I was accused of ‘disreputable behaviour’ regarding a fellow student. Nothing amounting to a criminal offence, thankfully. But it was soul-destroying and the worst period of my life to date.

I won’t go into the details. That’s not the point. The point is that I had written evidence from the lady in question which, to any reasonable mind, strongly contradicted the accusations being made (over a year after the event, incidentally.) I asked my accusers how they explained it. None of them even attempted an explanation. They just continued their poison behind my back.

You might expect me, therefore, to be in favour of full anonymity. Actually, I’m not. Rather, for criminal matters, I think the identities of the accuser and the accused should be in the public domain – as they are for other offences. Anonymity doesn’t cure the underlying disease. The only sustainable long-term solution is a greater public understanding of basic principles of critical thinking and evidence. People need to learn that accusations are not evidence and that accusations unsupported by evidence are worthless.

Maybe that’s too high-minded. But in my view, shrouding everything in secrecy doesn’t solve anything. It merely perpetuates the idea that there must be something to hide.



I don’t think you can have the accuser’s name made public in all cases. In a blackmail trial, to name the complainant will, in my view, inevitably result in people refusing to go to the police for fear that their secret will be open to all. That would fundamentally undermine justice. There has to be scope for anonymity in some cases.



Max Hardy has it right.

Felicity Gerry QC – is only interested in women’s rights and privileges.

Nigel Evans has a point.



Nigel Evans is a dick. Since when does the fact that a jury returns a verdict in 3 hours mean they shouldn’t have been prosecuted. An acquittal doesn’t mean a prosecution shouldn’t have been brought but he seems incapable of understanding it.



We live in a world were two consenting adults behave in a certain way the man is always the big bad wolf that forced the woman and the woman is the innocent little defenceless victim. This is the problem we need to get rid of this woman = prey man= predator



I’m sorry? But a woman can’t rape a man!



Not true anymore is it? I thought that changed a couple of years ago.



Women can commit assault by penetration, which is exactly the same thing as rape in the view of the law. We only call it differently because society somehow can’t get over the semantics of what rape really is.


Simon Myerson

Balancing the need for victims to feel that they can speak out against individual damage and reputations is always difficult. But the evidence is pretty clear that permitting publication of allegations does encourage victims to come forward.

On that basis I don’t think anonymity is helpful. The reality is that, however devastating the publicity, it comes with the verdict of not guilty. Whereas, anonymity not only undermines the likelihood that justice will be done, but also leads to potential wrongs that simply can’t be righted. There are plenty of rapists in prison at present who may well not be there if only one victim had given evidence against them. I accept that acquitted accused can suffer appalling consequences, but the focus should not be on how to prevent those consequences by causing justice to be denied. Rather it should be on how to make those consequences preventable (perhaps by an IPSO code on reporting acquittals) or recoverable.



You are such an establishment stooge Myerson.


Not Amused

I understand he prefers the term “right on Guardianista Blairite”



He isn’t remotely a Blairite. He’s as conservative as they come.


Post-92 Uni

Despite an acquittal, trial by your peers and the public is far more damning.

Serious crimes which have a serious effect on the individual’s reputation should have the identity of the individual kept anonymous until a verdict of guilty is reached.



Perhaps there is a compromise, since it is clear that publicity does bring “victims” forward: both parties remain anonymous until after the verdict, then the alleged perpetrator can be named – guilty or not guilty.

There is publicity of the alleged offence, but not the damage that goes with all the innuendo from the press for months beforehand. It may not be the best signal for other victims to come forward, since they may also fear a not guilty verdict, but if the perpetrator truly is a serial offender then this may give a victim the strength to come forward.


Not Amused

Human beings are vile to each other.

If we create a situation where one human being can force non-consensual sexual activity on another human being without fear of challenge then that human being will do so.

If we create a situation where one human being can make false allegations, be automatically believed and the victim prosecuted, nationally embarrassed, stressed and hurt, then a human being will do so.

We can try to educate our human beings better when they are small. We can try to prevent them doing vile things to each other as best we can. After that our systems should be designed to prevent further vile things occurring.

All of the historic sex abuse cases, when viewed objectively, involved serious and endemic failures in the systems which should have prevented them. In churches, in hospitals, in the media. There should be no defence for these failings of “but that human being was vile”. We knew that. Human beings are vile. Those who run the church, the hospitals, the media, they should have planned ahead.

Similarly the new form of vileness, the false allegation (I do not know if this one is that type so I’d rather not discuss this case, but we prosecuted a human recently for false allegations so let’s assume that case), where an innocent person’s life is attacked in these most horrid of ways by false arrest, imprisonment, questioning, trial- it is the failures in the system we need to focus on. Yes those who make false allegations are vile. But we knew that. Humans are vile. Why do our systems no longer plan ahead for that?

What we need in all cases is to focus not upon the fact that humans are vile. It is to focus upon the systems we need in place to prevent humans carrying out their vileness. I do not know how we prevent rapes. I do know that we prevent the vileness of false allegations by granting anonymity to the accused.

(Simon’s point on ‘people coming forward’, let them do so after conviction. Most publicity will be around the trial, by which time it is too late to add charges. Similar fact is being over used anyway – convictions should stand on their own merits and not need propping up by implication)


Gerald Wennerstrom

Really? You’re worried about who should or shouldn’t be anonymous? Take a long look at the whole process. The alleged victim isn’t alleged they are the IP. They are treated as their ‘harm’ is totally true. They are interviewed in the ‘victim suit’. And interviewed by kindly people who only want to make sure she is all right. The victim suit – outfitted by Marks and Spencer. Biscuits and tea so she can relax and take her time to get it right – say what you want we will believe you. No challenges here.

At trial the defendant can’t be present when the ‘vitim’ enters the courtroom, and the defendant has to be removed before the ‘victim’ can leave. The ‘victim’ during their testimony is placed behind a white screen, so they do not have to see the accused.

The accused is interrogated in a small room, and when not in that room he is placed in a cell that smells of piss and vomit. In court he is sequestered behind a glass barrier with two officers. He is not allowed to sit with his barrister. If he wants to help defend himself he can’t. He can’t directly confront his accuser – and as you know this is allowed in all other trials.

Once allowed to take the stand, the accused, is confronted by the prosecutor who doesn’t questions him to get the truth, rather it becomes the duty of the CPS to smear the accused’s name. To twist what the accused has said based on ‘her word against his’.

Never is the defendant’s barrister allowed to use the same tactics the prosecutor uses on the accused.

The IP is favored and the accused is, well the accused – guilty until proven innocent.

And if she later should be found out to have lied – she gets off light and he still has to live in fear of being seen as a rapist. Afraid of the next time . . . the next woman.

And you ponder whether to make either anonymous? Take the plaster off the cancer and treat it for what it is – a cancer.



A succinct point, but no one in this jurisdiction ‘takes the stand’, but I see what you mean.






Public trials and public scrutiny of the justice system is a safeguard that protects abuse of the interests of victims and those accused of crime. The principle of open justice shouldn’t be deviated from without good reason.

In the case of the anonymity of people (male and female) alleging rape or sexual assault have anonymity there is a good reason. Sex crimes are under-reported. There’s a social stigma about bringing such accusations (because of the perceived high level of false accusations) and if there weren’t anonymity even fewer victims would seek justice. I don’t think anonymity is justifiable in order to protect the victims themselves from the trauma of going public, but it is absolutely justifiable on the purely utilitarian ground that it facilitates and encourages the reporting of a serious crime. If another serious crime were as under-reported as rape and victim anonymity helped combat this, anonymity would be justifiable for that too – but as far as I’m away there isn’t another category of crime this describes. Similarly, if victim anonymity stopped helping sex crimes being reported then IMO it would no longer be justifiable.

I don’t think that there is a clear case for deviating from the principle of open justice by having those accused (male and female) of sex offences being anonymous. Sparing the trauma of being accused isn’t good enough in my opinion: I don’t think that that is enough for either victims or accused. I also don’t see why sex offences should be treated as a special case – lots of crimes carry a stigma – imagine going on trial for murder, or losing your livelihood because of a false accusation of fraud. There is also no evidence that there are any more false accusations of sex offences than other crimes. I also think that it is quite important that the justice system is seen to endorse the principle that those who are accused of a crime are to be considered until proven guilty, and that those who have been acquitted of a crime are to be seen as innocent. Anonymity for an accused (of any crime) shows a complete lack of confidence in the ability of the justice system to find someone not guilty.



I’d really like to see a reference for the assertion that sex crimes are under-reported relative to other crime. All crime is under reported to be best of my knowledge but that does not support anonymity for the alleged victims of other crime. Sex is not a special case regarding under-reporting, despite the conventional (dare i say hegemonic) wisdom. In fact, once at trial the last numbers i saw suggested the conviction rates were higher. This is particularly odd, and suggests things may be rather the wrong way around, as such offending necessarily presents far more significant evidential issues than many other forms of crime.





Also I agree that rape does present unique evidential difficulties, but in practice this means that only strong cases reach trial. I’d also like to see stats supporting your assertion about a higher conviction rate – never heard that before.


Shadowy figure

Very biased article. Upon hearing about s rape, most people’s instinctive response is to immediately doubt the allegation. The conviction rate for tape is shockingly low. Many people seem to have more sympathy with men accused of rape (‘it ruined his life’, ‘such a bright future’ etc) than rape victims (liar/dishonest/crazy/promiscuous/manipulative). With these facts in mind – and each of them are well borne out by research – it is unclear how being falsely accused of rape has much detrimental impact on a man’s life whatsoever.

You also skate over and muddle the arguments against anonymity. Allowing the name of the accused in rape cases to be made public allows his other victims to come forward and strengthens the case against him, increasing the chances of conviction and helping secure women’s safety. Given the very low rate of false allegations in rape cases, and the very low conviction rate, it seems that with the justice system in so much disarray the best prospect for women’s safety is to know the names of men accused of rape, so they can at least stay away from them.

Every time a story like this comes to light there is a sickening furor about anonymity. There is never any such furor, or any impetus for action, when the police falsely accuse rape victims of lying or coerce them into retracting their allegations.

Legal cheek is a shitposting site. Don’t try to pass off idiotic, half baked biased drivel as serious journalism.


Shadowy figure

Much of this also applies when the victim is male, by the way – that shouldn’t be ignored



“it seems that with the justice system in so much disarray the best prospect for women’s safety is to know the names of men accused of rape, so they can at least stay away from them”

This approach of treating accused but not convicted criminals like lepers is a frightening approach and thoroughly unhealthy. What if somebody accused you of a sexual offence, wrongly? If there are problems with the CJ system then deal with that – don’t put peoples names out there so that others can avoid the accused on the basis that they’re ‘probably better off’ doing that – despite the lack of any conviction.

If anything, promoting that as healthy and acceptable social behaviour will promote false accusations



The conviction rate for rape is not ‘shockingly low’. It’s not even low. The attrition rate *might* be high, but attrition rates are only compiled for rape, so we don’t actually know whether that measure is even relatively high.

The constantly repeated nonsense about low conviction is itself a major cause of reluctance to report rape.

As for other victims coming forward, why isn’t a defendant entitled to the protection of the possibility of men coming forward who might have been falsely accused by his accuser?


Law Student

I honestly believe that they make a good point here. It is second nature to human beings to think that an accused person must have committed the crime they are accused off which creates “a trial by the public”. However, in situations like this, it is not always the case and it can have incredibly devastating results to the accused as well as their family even when they are acquitted. Max Hardy is right, anonymity should be granted until conviction in these cases. I am a female law student myself and I believe that especially in rape and sexual assault cases there must be done more about protecting the accused’s identity until proven guilty.



The simplest solution would just be to not allow the victim to make anonymous claims. Why should a rape victim be worried about how the public perceives him/her with regard to his/her sexual habits, especially when the victim him/herself is being violated in this situation? We are not living in the 1930s.


Kuzka's Mother

No, we’re living in 2016, but have you thought that maybe the victim of such an intimately traumatising assault may not want the publicity or attention this would bring? That something that should be so personal and private gets completely twisted and corrupted, and then if you choose to report it you’re forced to not only relive the whole thing but also tell publicly announce who you are? We’re not living in the 1930s but people can be just as disgusting as back then when it comes to rape victims, especially if the accused is someone of influence or similarly high-profiled. The amount of online abuse alone they’d receive would be horrifying.

The biggest problem with rape is that it is so vastly under reported, and in many cases victims do not believe that they will be taken seriously or worse, blamed for it. It’s no secret that in some more conservative Muslim countries rape victims are often punished, either flogged or executed or subject to “honour” killings, and sadly a similar attitude can sometimes be seen at work here (and I’m not just talking about victims of “honour” killings in Europe) – I mean they may very well be publicly blamed for the incident: “you were asking for it dressed like that/well what did you expect with your reputation/you shouldn’t have had that extra drink/you shouldn’t have let him get close to you/etc.” – as if the man couldn’t stop himself from raping her and that any of those things could potentially mitigate his actions. Rape should never be perceived to be the victim’s fault, but unfortunately many times it is, even in our ‘progressive’ society.

It would be better overall for both parties to remain anonymous until the conclusion of proceedings. False rape claims are rare, but they are utterly devastating when they happen, not just for the falsely accused (whose life can be completely ruined by it) but also for genuine rape victims who have had their credibility further undermined.


Not Amused

Yes I think we should just treat rape as special and make it secret for accuser and accused.

The media are an odd lot. They whine about not being given access to family courts and the court of protection. But the fact is that they are an unregulated shambles that can’t even be trusted to accurately or fairly report what they are permitted to report now.


Gus the Snedger

Simple solutions:

– Anonymity for both accused and complainant unless and until accused is convicted.

– Penis guillotine and maximum publicity for the convicted.




False rape accusations are surprisingly common at universities, especially where regret is involved or a girl has been hurt due to a relationship rebuffal. I have seen it at my own university last year. No evidence is needed to tear a guys life apart….






I mean evidence of the “surprisingly common” claim



Rape is a horrible crime lets make no mistake, but there is a serious sense of falsehood in regards to the facts that surround it. Firstly compared to other crimes it is 4 times more likely that a false rape report will be made. Additionally there is this myth that only 2 percent of allegations are false ( RAINN perpetuates this). This is dangerous and untrue, the study that was based upon is anecdotal and came some 30 years ago and hasn’t been properly refuted. What is being found is that based on the nature of the crime you get a dark figure, which is essentially that people don’t know. This is troubling of course as we take comfort in statistics as they give us an idea about the likelihood of such a crime. What the FBI and other agencies have found is that false reporting is usually somewhere around the 5% marker. When i say this I mean clear quantifiable false reporting as in where the accused had an alibi, or a video recording etc that showed beyond reasonable doubt that his accuser was lying. Considering most cases fall onto he said she said and as mentioned earlier there is no real punishment for those women who lie ( human beings do terrible things, if men can rape then its not unfair to say women can lie about it) whats to stop an unscrupulous person from lying?

Based on that I think anonymity for the accused is totally fair.
It needs also be added that whilst rape is under-reported what makes one think that false allegations wouldn’t also be under-reported? Most people need not go to the extreme of going to the police for an allegation of rape to be ruinous.

I’m not trying to defend mens rights or vilify women at all. But part of equality is recognizing that women are just as capable as men, in both the good and the bad.


Gerald Wennerstrom

Okay, lots of rhetoric – back and forth but which one(s) of you will have the balls to actually do something about this cancer?

I spent 4 years and 5 months in two HMPs. I saw many men who were innocent (appeals and the liars being found out) lose family, kids, jobs, property, and a slim chance of ever being normal again.

I woke several times to find another man had lost all hope, and silently slipped away – or found another use for the sheets. Fortunately, I had help from several prison officers who believed in me. Several of them had also been falsely accused by vindictive females.

I myself was accused by my wife of rape to prevent me from taking our children away from her when I found she was cheating on our family with a drug using paedophile. I had emails between him and her where she admits she is going to take the kids from me and make ‘him’ their new daddy, and it would all happen soon. She cried rape when I told her I would divorce her.

Yet, my legal team saw no point in using those emails. And I was wrongly convicted after two trials. Later, I find out my barrister has quit the legal profession. I attempted many times to get legal help, only to be told ‘we are working on it.’ Then the legal aid ran out.

I had information that ‘he’ moved into my house two days after she accused me of rape. That on that weekend she went with him to his boss’ wedding. That the following week at my children’s school she was parading him around as her new partner with open displays of affection. Judge said the jury didn’t need to know that info. That it was okay for a family court but not hers.

My ‘victim’ stayed married to me through my entire time in prison, visited me with the kids. Came in dressed as if she were visiting a lover. She hugged and kissed me when she arrived. The prison officers were all shaking their heads – “She’s your victim? Never have I seen the victim visit the accused.”

We were finally divorced 6 years after she accused me. In court when she is asked by my barrister about the alleged rape she says, “Oh, I never considered the word rape.” Yet, my barrister moved onto the next question – no challenge. And none at the second trial. No one, not even the judge challenged what she said.

My risk assessment was so low that I was allowed to be a library orderly. I went through the Archbold and found 69 different ways my trial was manipulated or abused. I sent this to my then solicitor, asked her to pull the transcripts, they never did. When I was able to I wrote for those transcripts – tapes destroyed.

My story is not unique. Many more like me exist. But, all I hear is talk about if the system works or not. Listen very carefully – if you are not part of the solution you are a part of the problem. THE FUCKING CPS/CJS IS CORRUPT! Good solicitors/barristers are leaving the profession because the system is no longer safe and they are disgusted with it. I have met several who have done so.

The only way it will change is for you get out from under your wigs, and robes and do what is right – fight for the truth, not give lip service to it or just dot the ‘i’s’ and cross the ‘t’s’.

What most of you FORGET, so easily, is that you are a male, (or a male member of your family) and can be quickly subjected to the same false accusations as many of us have. It’s not a matter it can’t happen to you, it’s a matter of when. Your profession, your robes and whigs do not protect you, in fact they very well could be a target.


Lord Lyle

during my career I was a professional Destroyer of rape trials. I have had Furious complaints made against me by the police, my learned friends and the judiciary for ruining their rape trials.

most vociferously vera Baird MP made a complaint about me in parliament for getting three Bengali boys off a rape charge with a caution. 🙂

I jest not.

These the female liars should do the same amount of jail time as their victims would have been sentenced to had they been convicted, but mostly they get about 2 years for attempted perversion of the course of justice



Business as usual I see – a convicted rapist and a shower of nutters have come to join the party….


G Wennerstrom

Convicted yes, but wrongly so. And I will not hide smugly behind being Anonymous. And since you are not on the convicted side we know where you fit in at the party. Have another drink of anonymity righteousness since you didn’t bring your balls to the party.


Gerald Wennerstrom

The CPS on it’s website considers it a myth that “victims cry rape when they regret having sex or want revenge”. Further they state: Prosecutors who deal with rape cases are taught about them (the myths) as part of their specialist training. We will not allow these myths and stereotypes to influence our decisions and we will robustly challenge such attitudes in the courtroom.

Then we have in the Code For Crown Prosecutors: “Prosecutors must be fair, independent and objective. They must not let any personal views about the ethnic or national origin, gender, disability, age, religion or belief, political views, sexual orientation, or gender identity of the suspect, victim or any witness influence their decisions. Neither must prosecutors be affected by improper or undue pressure from any source. Prosecutors must always act in the interests of justice and not solely for the purpose of obtaining a conviction.” Several times the prosecutors referred to me in a derogatory way of being an American. Along with out and out lies about my intentions to steal my children away to America – despite neither had an American passport, and an American can only get their child a passport IF BOTH PARENTS CONSENTED unlike a British passport.

“And if I laugh at any mortal thing, ‘Tis that I may not weep.”
―Lord Byron



I don’t think the CPS look at their cases anymore until the morning of the trial.



Poor Peter Avery….Shining example of the shit a false accusation can drop you in!


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