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Judge Throws Out MoD Employee's Sexual Assault Case

Not guilty verdict - client exonerated
15 September, 2019
Criminal
General Sexual Offences

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Case study summary

Our client, an MoD employee accused of sexual assault by a female army officer who was a work rival, won his appeal against conviction after our lawyers persauded the judge to order disclosure of full evidence. The MoD had destroyed evidence so the judge threw the case out.

Case study

Our client was a specialised civilian contractor working in a senior position in the MoD on highly sensitive operations. The allegation came from an officer on the military base where he worked. The fact he was a civilian had caused a problem for this female officer. It appeared that she had felt undermined by him and she had despised him telling her what to do.

The frosty relationship spilled over into their social lives, specifically while both were drinking on base. On one night in particular, the two were drinking heavily in the same bar when they got into an argument. They both called each other names and things became heated before the client left to go home. The female officer followed him out and continued to shout at him as he tried to leave. Given the fact that she was a ranking officer, one of her junior officers followed her in support. The junior officer caught up with the client and punched him square in the jaw.

The next day as the client was waking up, two large police officers knocked at the door. They told him he had been accused of a sexual assault against his military co-worker and he he had to come to the station for a “chat”. This obviously came as a massive shock.

In reality, the “chat” was actually a police interrogation without a lawyer present. He, like many people, wrongly believed that asking for a lawyer would make him look guilty. He denied the allegation, and told them everything that had happened that night, and the background of this unpleasant relationship. He also tried to help the police understand that military officers generally stick together. He explained this meant that there was a real risk that any supporting statements from officers were unreliable.

Despite his hope that his openness and willingness to talk would help him with the police , he was actually charged with Assault by Touching under S.3 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003. As the duty solicitor explained the potential impact of a conviction, his life began to unravel and his mental health deteriorated. This local solicitor advised him to have his trial at the Magistrate’s Court and not the Crown Court. The lawyer suggested this because he said it was ‘the cheaper option’. This advice was just wrong. While the initial legal fees might have been lower, the long-term cost of a conviction, which was far more likely in the Magistrate’s Court, was always going to be huge.

Inevitably, given the mistakes that had been made by his first lawyer, he was convicted of sexual assault. The consequences were that he was suspended from his work with the MOD, stripped of his high-level security clearance, and immediately signed off sick with PTSD. Thankfully, his wife, who was a military officer herself, didn't lose hope and was determined to save him. She did her research and she found our specialist sexual assault solicitors.

Immediately we understood that the client had taken on an almost impossible task at the Magistrate’s Court. He faced witness evidence from three high-ranking military officers, and they had all confirmed the evidence of the complainant and convinced the magistrates that she was incapable of lying. By this stage he was so angry about the whole thing, he wasn't even able to express his own case in a sensible way. Luckily our specialist criminal lawyers gave him time to express his strong feelings before beginning to plan how to win on appeal.

We got to work. We listened to the client, we spoke to witnesses, made requests to the MOD for the internal case file. We were completely determined not to accept excuses for not providing us with evidence we had a right to see. Even GCHQ got involved, trying to stop us seeing evidence which couyld hep our client.

Eventually, we uncovered the truth. The complainant had made several statements internally prior to the police statement. We pressured the MOD with request after request for copies of the statements but they tried to close the door on us. We did not stop.

At the Crown Court for the appeal hearing, the MOD even sent disguised staff to sit in the public gallery without identifying themselves, either to observe or to intimidate.

All of the hard work we had done in pushing the MOD for disclosure was finally successful. Judge ordered the official military staff in court to hand over the statements made before the police complaint. After the prosecution barrister made some panicked calls to the base, he had to admit to the judge that the files had been deliberately destroyed by the base command. Our barrister, Nick Wrack of Garden Court Chambers, immediately made an 'abuse of process' application on the basis that the destruction of evidence made it impossible for the client to have a fair trial. The judge swiftly quashed the conviction, and condemned the actions of the military.

Our client was fully exonerated. Having carried the burden of this case for 2 years, he was overcome by emotion. He told us that at some level, he couldn’t believe the military machine had been beaten, and he had got the justice he knew he deserved.

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