Durham Uni law academic sparks furious Twitter debate after claiming high-profile rape allegation wasn’t necessarily ‘false’

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By CJ McKinney on

Criminal law expert stirs up controversy online

Credit: Durham University Law School

An academic at Durham University Law School has provoked furious debate after saying that a high-profile rape allegation against student Liam Allan wasn’t necessarily “false”.

Criminal law assistant professor Hannah Bows made the Twitter claim despite the now infamous case being dropped after evidence emerged that the sex was consensual. The post generated protests from Allan and even the prosecuting barrister in the case.

Allan’s case generated a wave of media coverage at the end of 2017. The criminology student was charged with rape and sexual assault, but police failed to disclose crucial texts from the complainant that fatally undermined the case against him.

When the texts eventually surfaced — midway through the trial — they reportedly showed the complainant requesting sex with Allan and telling friends that she had enjoyed it. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) decided that there was no longer a realistic prospect of conviction and halted the case.

Responding to a BBC report yesterday that Allan had been “falsely accused”, Bows tweeted that “there is no evidence the allegation was false. The case was dropped due to police errors”.

The comment drew a strong response — including from Allan himself. He told Bows that there were messages “disproving the allegation entirely”.

Disgusted lawyers also piled in, with criminal solicitor Nicholas Diable saying “It is an established fact that the case was dropped because messages were found in which the complaint made clear the sex was consensual”.

Jerry Hayes, the prosecuting barrister in Allan’s case, weighed in to say that “the withheld evidence showed that the allegations were false. That’s why I offered no evidence”.

But Bows hit back at her critics, saying that evidence in favour of the accused wasn’t “proof that an allegation was false”.

Some members of the public supported the academic. Dr Ann Olivarius replied “why the distinction is so hard to understand for so many escapes me”, and Jill Arnold said “Glad you spoke out – the BBC throw in falsehoods (very sloppy journalism) all the time”.

But many responses were hostile. Some lawyers even claimed that Bows’s point could get her sued for defamation. David Hughes, a barrister at 30 Park Place Chambers, warned that “your tweets are an example of how easily very significant liability can be incurred, very quickly”.

In follow-up tweets, Bows suggested that a rape allegation shouldn’t be described as false unless the claimant has actually been charged or convicted of making false allegations.

She added: “I am stating the victim should not be described as/implied to be a liar/making false allegations when this has not been proven. Simples”.

Bows, whose research focuses on violence against women, victimology and feminist and socio-legal theory, is also a local magistrate. She told Legal Cheek last night that she had nothing further to add on the controversy.

Allan’s case is back in the headlines because of plans to change how alleged victims of crime give consent to having their phones examined by police. Media reports say that new police consent forms amount to “Hand over your phones or see attackers walk free“, but the CPS has attacked “serious inaccuracies” in media coverage, adding that “it is not true that complainants in rape cases must automatically hand over personal data on their digital devices or run the risk of the prosecution being dropped”.

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