I regularly find myself instructed by clients who have just been through one of the most harrowing experiences of their lives. Without any warning, they have been arrested for a sexual offence, taken to the police station and interviewed about matters which they completely deny. Most of these individuals have no previous experience of dealing with the police and they certainly do not have a specialist criminal lawyer to call upon. They are likely to have requested the services of the Duty Solicitor although, in some circumstances, they may have gone through the interview process unrepresented.
Following police questioning, they may have been bailed or released under investigation left not knowing what to do next or whether anything can, or should, be done during the period of investigation.
So, what can be done and what will happen if nothing is done during the intervening weeks and months?
Frequently, I am approached by clients who can disprove much of what is being alleged. Whether they have offered this explanation to the police depends upon two factors – the advice given by the legal representative and the questions put by the police.
Often, it is only after having left the police station that the client has an opportunity to properly reflect upon the interview process and feels that they have a lot of information that they now want to present to the police.
Below are a number of examples of cases where no charges were brought because it was possible to directly contradict what was alleged by producing evidence that was entirely inconsistent with a complaint of non-consensual sexual activity
- Sexual activity was alleged to have taken place during the course of a relationship followed by “affectionate text activity” referring to sex having taken place a few hours earlier. A few days later, the relationship deteriorated and was ended by our client. This led to a complaint of rape being made. It was only after our client had been bailed that he was able to retrieve text and email activity which supported his version of events.
- In another case, a young professional was accused of date rape. The complainant alleged she had been drugged and unconscious for a ten hour period. His case was that sexual activity had taken place throughout the night. We were able to prove Facebook activity by the complainant and the downloading of iphone apps during the period of supposed unconsciousness, as well as “affectionate text activity” the following day.
- In a matter involving an allegation of rape dating back several decades, our client was able to produce poems that the complainant had written several years later, and perhaps forgotten about, confirming how much she was attracted to our client and that she had wanted sex with him on the night in question.
- In another allegation dating back many years, our client was able to produce a letter from the complainant to his wife apologising for the “love affair” that she had with the suspect, hardly consistent with non-consensual sex.
- An allegation was made against our client several years after the breakdown of a relationship. This coincided with the client not only starting a new relationship but having a baby with his new wife, and reconciling with his estranged children. Not only were the defence able to draw this to the attention of the police post-interview, but it was also possible to show that the complainant’s behaviour at the time of the breakdown of the marriage was entirely inconsistent with the behaviour alleged by her to have taken place throughout the relationship.
In all the above situations, careful thought had to be given as to what to do with the information provided by the client.
What your lawyer can do
At an early stage contact was made with the police to advise them of our involvement. This is always a useful opportunity to get a feel for how the investigation is progressing and of what the investigating officer may think of the allegation. In some of the above situations we were able to forward email trails, text activity or documents on a relatively informal basis. In other situations, formal representations against charge were made, drawing to the attention of the Reviewing Lawyer the contents of the Code for Crown Prosecutors and the Charging Standard. On several occasions Counsel was consulted at this very early stage.
None of the above cases led to prosecutions. All were stopped at the first opportunity.
Some lawyers take the view that, following a police station attendance, it is better to do nothing and allow the decision making process to proceed with the evidence available. Indeed, many of the letters clients receive from the solicitor representing them at the police station are standard letters which make reference to the next contact being a few days before the bail return date.
It may well be appropriate to do nothing prior to a bail return date but, once charged, a suspect becomes a defendant and a Crown Court trial is inevitable with consequential stress, publicity, risk of conviction, loss of liberty, reputation and so on.
When facing a sexual allegation it is not always possible to stop a complaint in its tracks. Restraint needs to be exercised and serious thought given to disclosing anything to the police following interview and prior to a bail return date. However, there are many situations where action can be taken and results can be achieved. Pre-charge police liaison and well constructed representations against charge can be the most effective role a lawyer can perform at any stage of the criminal process.
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Matthew Claughton – Specialist Rape & Sexual Offences Lawyer
Matthew Claughton is a Crime and Sexual Offences Solicitor at Olliers Solicitors, Manchester and London. If you wish to discuss how we can assist in relation to your criminal case contact him by telephone on 0161 8277010 or click here to email him.