Three young men have walked free from court having been cleared of rape in the past few days alone.
First, Joshua Lines was accused of forcing himself on an undergraduate friend following a boozy night out, despite being too drunk to even remember if they had sex.
Then there was Bartolomeo Joly de Lotbiniere, a high-flying York University student — also accused of attacking a woman after a night on the tiles — whose ‘victim’ only contacted police 14 months after the alleged incident when Joly de Lotbiniere appeared on a television quiz show.
Bartolomeo Joly de Lotbiniere, 22, was accused of raping a geography student at York University after a night out downing cheap spirits and alcopops
And finally, trainee accountant George Owen was found not guilty earlier this week after a jury was shown Facebook messages posted by his alleged victim in which she belittled the incident.
Given the evidence — or lack of it — many will question how these cases ever came to court.
But far from being one-offs, they are part of a steady stream of cases which follow a strikingly similar pattern.
A young man and a young woman, often friends or acquaintances, have sex after a drunken night out. With no other witnesses to the act, the central issue is that of consent. While the man claims the woman agreed to sex, she says — sometimes many months after the event — that she did not.
Friends Thady Duff (pictured), Leo Mahon, Patrick Foster, all 22, and James Martin, 20, were charged with gang-raping a young woman following the May Ball at the Royal Agricultural University in Cirencester, Gloucestershire in 2014
In each case, the Crown Prosecution Service (cps) decided there was sufficient evidence for the case to be put before a jury.
Only after months of waiting, their lives put on hold, were the accused finally able to tell their side of the story in court.
Time and again, juries have either believed them or the cases against them have collapsed. But even though they have been able to walk free from court, their names will forever be publicly linked with the lurid claims and counter-claims of a rape case.
Because unlike their accusers, who under the law are rightly granted anonymity for life, they have no such protection.
Earlier this year Judge Philip Shorrock wrote a letter to a newspaper lambasting the CPS over its handling of rape cases involving alcohol or drugs.
Friends Thady Duff, Leo Mahon (pictured), Patrick Foster, all 22, and James Martin, 20, were charged with gang-raping a young woman following the May Ball at the Royal Agricultural University in Cirencester, Gloucestershire in 2014
Friends Thady Duff, Leo Mahon, Patrick Foster (pictured), all 22, and James Martin, 20, were charged with gang-raping a young woman following the May Ball at the Royal Agricultural University in Cirencester, Gloucestershire in 2014
‘The complainant and the defendant know each other,’ he wrote. ‘One or both has or have been drinking and/or taking drugs before the events giving rise to the complaint taking place. Each gives a plausible enough account as to what happened. There is no independent evidence which tends to suggest that the complainant is telling the truth.
‘In such circumstances — given the burden and standard of proof — the defendant is usually and unsurprisingly acquitted. Perhaps the CPS understands the words “realistic prospect of conviction” to mean something which is not obvious to the rest of us.’
Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders said his comments harked back to the ‘victim- blaming’ culture of the past.
‘It is our job, as prosecutors, to make objective charging decisions based on the evidence, rather than the discredited rape myths that skewed the system against victims,’ she said.
Durham University undergraduate George Worrall, 22, was charged with two rapes and one sexual assault after taking a woman back to his accommodation in December 2014
‘For us to consider criminal charges, in any case, there must be sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction.
‘There is no legal requirement for victims’ accounts to be corroborated by a third party and it is ultimately up to a jury to decide guilt or otherwise based on all the evidence presented to them.’
But others say Judge Shorrock is correct and that political pressure to improve conviction rates in rape prosecutions is leading to ‘unwinnable’ cases being brought to court.
Lawyer Chris Saltrese, who runs a firm of solicitors in Southport, Merseyside, which specialises in handling contested rape allegations, says: ‘The CPS are not interested in anything a defendant has to say. They are interested in prosecutions.
‘Basically their mantra is “don’t concentrate on the credibility of the complainant, try to case-build as much as you possibly can and get a case in front of a jury”.
‘The problem with that approach is that the jury often find the complainant incredible for any number of reasons and so they acquit.’
Graduate Lewis Tappenden, 24, was charged with raping a fresher he had met at a nightclub in York in October 2015
Official statistics show there has been a dramatic increase in the number of allegations of rape made to police in the past few years.
While only a fraction of these allegations will ever reach court, there has also been a 25 per cent increase in the number of rape cases referred from the police to the CPS over the past five years.
Of the rape cases that ended up in court in 2015/16, 57.9 per cent resulted in conviction.
But it is worth noting that when taken against the total number of rape allegations reported to the police in that time frame, that represents a conviction rate of 7.5 per cent.
Last year jury acquittals accounted for more than 60 per cent of failed prosecutions — up from 51 per cent in 2011/2012. A spokesman for the CPS said last night they were, ‘prosecuting and convicting more defendants for rape than ever before.
In each case referred to us by police, specialist lawyers decide whether to prosecute based solely on the evidential and public interest tests set out in the Code for Crown Prosecutors.
‘The function of the CPS is not to decide whether a person is guilty of a criminal offence, but to make fair, independent and objective assessments about whether it is appropriate to present charges for a jury to consider.’
The spokesman also said that a large proportion of cases reported to the police are never referred to the CPS for a decision on whether or not to charge.
Gerald Laryea, 25, an analyst with accounting firm Deloitte, was accused of raping a 21-year-old Cambridge University student in the back of a taxi
GALLERY OF THE WRONGLY DAMNED
1. Bartolomeo Joly de Lotbiniere
Cleared: September 2017
Length of ordeal: 25 months
Bartolomeo Joly de Lotbiniere, 22, was accused of raping a geography student at York University after a night out downing cheap spirits and alcopops. His 19-year-old accuser said his advances were unwanted and that she froze in terror as Lotbiniere, also then 19, undressed her and carried her to bed in her halls of residence.
But she only reported Mr Joly de Lotbiniere to police 14 months after the alleged attack when he appeared on television in six episodes of the BBC2 quiz show University Challenge.
Gameshow host Richard Osman tweeted to his 500,000 followers: ‘Marks for surnames on university challenge 10 out of 10 — Joly de Lotbiniere.’
Others described him as posh and cute.
His accuser became angry at the attention he was receiving and went to the police.
After such a long passage of time there was no forensic evidence, only individual testimonies, accounts from friends and text messages.
Mr Joly de Lotbiniere insisted what had happened was a ‘two-way’, consensual one-night stand, saying : ‘Drunk or sober I would never rape anybody.’
After two trials spread over seven months — the first ended in a hung jury — he was last week found not guilty of rape and sexual assault.
2. Thady Duff (below), 3. Leo Mahon, 4. James Martin 5. Patrick Foster
Cleared: April 2016
Length of ordeal: 23 months
Friends Thady Duff, Leo Mahon, Patrick Foster, all 22, and James Martin, 20, were charged with gang-raping a young woman following the May Ball at the Royal Agricultural University in Cirencester, Gloucestershire in 2014.
It was alleged that the violent assault was filmed, and the footage circulated via Snapchat.
But the trial at Gloucester Crown Court collapsed after it emerged that detectives had ‘cherry picked’ and ‘airbrushed’ the evidence.
A study of the alleged victim’s phone revealed that she had sent nude pictures of herself to one of the men in advance of the ball and also how she had given inconsistent accounts of a ‘threesome’ she took part in at an Army barracks five months after the alleged university rape.
Shockingly, none of this material was handed over to the prosecution or defence by an investigating police officer.
Royal Agricultural University students Mahon, Foster and Duff, and friend Martin, were cleared after the prosecution offered no evidence.
Friends Thady Duff, Leo Mahon, Patrick Foster, all 22, and James Martin, 20, (pictured) were charged with gang-raping a young woman following the May Ball at the Royal Agricultural University in Cirencester, Gloucestershire in 2014
6. George Worrall
Cleared: July 2016
Length of ordeal: 18 months
Durham University undergraduate George Worrall, 22, was charged with two rapes and one sexual assault after taking a woman back to his accommodation in December 2014.
But after 18 months during which Worrall was suspended from university, the Crown Prosecution Service offered no evidence and dropped the case, recording not guilty verdicts.
At a brief hearing at Teesside Crown Court, the CPS said following a case review the prospect of a conviction appeared ‘very unlikely’ due to ‘inconsistencies of the victim’s account’.
Mr Worrall, from Cromer in Norfolk, said he planned to set up a group to support young men in higher education who are facing similar allegations.
7. Lewis Tappenden
Cleared: March 2017
Length of ordeal: 18 months
Graduate Lewis Tappenden, 24, was charged with raping a fresher he had met at a nightclub in York in October 2015.
It was claimed that after returning to the 18-year-old’s room, Tappenden, then 22, had pinned her down and raped her after she changed her mind about having sex.
But during the five-day trial it emerged that after bumping into him on the dancefloor, the woman had told him: ‘I don’t want to know you afterwards — I just want to f*** you.’
Both were drunk and the first-year undergraduate claimed she had been ‘dragged’ out of the York nightclub — although CCTV proved this not to be the case.
Mr Tappenden, who had just completed his English literature and creative writing degree at York St John University, told the jury: ‘She never said no. If she had, I would not have done anything. I understand what consent is. I feel my life has been ruined. I thought about killing myself because of the shame of coming here.’
The jury took just two hours to clear him of two counts of rape.
8. Gerald Laryea
Cleared: July 2017
Length of ordeal: Two years
Gerald Laryea, 25, an analyst with accounting firm Deloitte, was accused of raping a 21-year-old Cambridge University student in the back of a taxi.
The woman had claimed that she was too drunk to consent and that she had been ‘drifting in and out of consciousness’ as Laryea, then 23, forced himself on her after a boozy night out in London in July 2015.
But urine samples taken from the woman by a police officer between 11 and 12 hours after the taxi journey revealed no trace of alcohol, the court was told.
Clare Gordon, for the defence, told jurors at Woolwich Crown Court: ‘I’m suggesting she wasn’t blind drunk. She wasn’t drifting in and out of consciousness in the back of that taxi. Evidence points away from [that] claim. Can you be sure she didn’t simply regret what had happened?’
It also emerged that earlier in the evening the pair had bumped into Mr Laryea’s mother, who told the pair to calm down. The alleged victim is said to have commented: ‘She’s jealous. We’re going to have babies.’
After a week-long trial, the jury took less than two hours to clear Mr Layrea of rape and sexual assault.
9. Zach Kibirige
Cleared: August 2016
Length of ordeal: Nine months
Rising rugby star Zach Kibirige was said to have used both ‘fear and force’ to rape a young woman he met on the Tinder dating app in November 2015.
But the 21-year-old, who has played on the wing for England Under-20s and Newcastle Falcons, insisted that the sex had been entirely consensual.
Having met online, the pair exchanged 1,000 messages before Mr Kibirige was invited around for ‘cuddles’ and to watch a film.
But when he left her flat after sex to go to an early-morning training session, Mr Kibirige said the woman appeared displeased, telling him she felt she had been ‘bucked and ditched’.
Rising rugby star Zach Kibirige was said to have used both ‘fear and force’ to rape a young woman he met on the Tinder dating app in November 2015
Nonetheless, she subsequently sent him a ‘thumbs-up’ emoji in a text message.
The court also heard that the woman had gone out the night after the alleged rape to a bar near Mr Kibirige’s home, despite telling police she had been too terrified to leave her flat in case she bumped into him.
A jury at Newcastle Crown Court took just an hour and 15 minutes to clear Mr Kibirige of all seven counts of rape and assault.
10. Joshua Lines
Cleared: September 2017
Length of ordeal: Three years
Company director’s son Joshua Lines, 23, was charged with rape following a night out drinking beer and prosecco with a female undergraduate friend.
It was alleged that after falling asleep next to one another in her halls of residence, the woman woke up to find herself on top of Mr Lines, then 20, with her pyjama bottoms pulled down and he having sex with her.
Mr Lines claimed that he was too drunk to remember whether the pair had sex, but denied raping her.
‘I don’t believe I could have done what she said I did because of the logistics of it,’ said Mr Lines, from Wigan.
‘She woke up on top of me with her legs either side, how would I get her there?’
A medical examination carried out on the woman several days after the incident showed no traces of Mr Lines’ DNA.
In two trials jurors failed to agree a verdict.
Last week, at Manchester Crown Court, he was formally cleared of rape when prosecutors said they would not be seeking a third trial.
Company director’s son Joshua Lines, 23, was charged with rape following a night out drinking beer and prosecco with a female undergraduate friend
11. Louis Richardson
Cleared: January 2016
Length of ordeal: 15 months
Louis Richardson was charged with raping a fellow student at Durham University.
It was claimed that the 21-year-old forced himself on his victim when she was ‘crazy drunk’ and unresponsive.
But Mr Richardson’s barrister, Philippa McAtasney QC, branded the complainant a ‘highly manipulative, dishonest, dangerous young woman’.
She told the jury that the woman continued to have a sexual relationship with Mr Richardson for three months after the alleged attack.
She also sent him pictures of her in just a bra and swapped suggestive banter on Facebook calling him a ‘sexy menace’ and saying: ‘I’ll let you spank me.’
She only made the rape complaint after going on holiday with her long-term boyfriend.
Ms McAtasney said: ‘None of us wants to believe anyone who tells lies or makes false accusations. If it was as simple as complainants always telling the truth, there would be no need for a trial ever.’
He was cleared of rape in less than three hours.
Louis Richardson was charged with raping a fellow student at Durham University
12. Kato Harris
Cleared: July 2016
Length of ordeal: 17 months
Private school teacher Kato Harris saw his career — and life — collapse after being charged with raping a 14-year-old pupil.
It was alleged that the 38-year-old had attacked the girl on three separate occasions in an open classroom during school lunch breaks. But during a trial at the Old Bailey it was claimed that the alleged victim was a troubled ‘attention seeker’ and only made her accusations a year after the assaults were supposed to have taken place, following weekly therapy sessions.
Even after Mr Harris had been subjected to the humiliation of being arrested at his school, the girl declined to fully co-operate with police.
The teenager’s wealthy family, who live in a £7 million London townhouse, employed top legal firm Mishcon de Reya to represent her, as well as former assistant commissioner at Scotland Yard Sue Akers as a private investigator.
The trial judge would subsequently conclude that ‘enormous pressure’ had been put on the police and the CPS to prosecute.
Mr Harris, from Richmond, South-West London, broke down in tears as the jury took just 26 minutes to clear him of all charges.
Private school teacher Kato Harris saw his career — and life — collapse after being charged with raping a 14-year-old pupil
13. Prithvi Sridhar
Cleared: February 2016
Length of ordeal: 14 months
Outstanding Cambridge undergraduate Prithvi Sridhar, 21, was accused of raping a fellow student following a drink-filled night out in November 2014.
His alleged victim told Cambridge Crown Court that he forced himself upon her after returning to her room, leaving huge love bites on her neck.
Mr Sridhar claimed he was too drunk to have had sex and that the student had got back in bed with him after the alleged rape.
Joe Stone, defending, said: ‘Surely if she was raped, the last place on earth she would want to return to would be that room.’
The jury found Mr Sridhar not guilty of rape.
Outstanding Cambridge undergraduate Prithvi Sridhar, 21, was accused of raping a fellow student following a drink-filled night out in November 2014
14. George Owen
Cleared: September 2017
Length of ordeal: 19 months
Privately educated trainee accountant George Owen, 21, was charged with raping a 19-year-old student in an alley after a boozy night out.
The teenager claimed Owen, then aged 18, forced himself on her as they left a bar in Bury, Greater Manchester, but she only contacted police a year later, after spotting Mr Owen in a pub.
She subsequently told friends on Facebook: ‘OMG hahahahaha my mum knows. She wants to hold my hand to go through it all with me. I was only raped chill the f*** out. I’m going to ring them (police) tomorrow and tell them I’ll do it.
‘My mum wants to come so I’m going to ask whether I can do it while she’s on holiday. It’s going to be so fun.’
Charged with rape, attempted rape and sexual assault, Mr Owen told a jury in Manchester that the woman had agreed to have sex with him.
‘She was tipsy and the conversation was flirtatious,’ he said. ‘She brushed my legs a few times with her hand. I never used physical force. She didn’t push me away, she didn’t say no. It was completely consensual.’
Following a week-long trial, the jury took just over two hours to clear him of all charges.
Privately educated trainee accountant George Owen, 21, was charged with raping a 19-year-old student in an alley after a boozy night out