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Man Cleared of Rape Urges Anonymity For Accused

Man Cleared of Rape Urges Anonymity For Accused

sex crimes and defendants

A man cleared of raping a woman who committed suicide halfway through the subsequent police investigation has called for anonymity to be given to defendants in sex crime cases.

Elgan Varney, 33, was accused of raping Hannah Stubbs, who was a student at Keele University, in Staffordshire. The 22-year-old killed herself in August 2015. An inquest found that she had been suffering post-traumatic stress at the time of her death.

The Crown Prosecution Service offered no evidence against Mr Varney and he was cleared of two charges of rape and one of sexual assault. He afterwards said that the years since the allegation had been a “horrendous ordeal.”

During the hearing at Stoke-on-Trent Crown Court, prosecutor Karim Khalil QC said the decision by the CPS to not continue the prosecution had been taken at the “highest level.” The CPS said the case had been kept under regular review and prosecutors were no longer satisfied there was a realistic prospect of conviction.

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‘Lives left in tatters’

Following the hearing, and after offering his condolences to the family of Ms Stubbs, Mr Varney said he had been looking forward to the facts of the case coming out at trial and added that he supported anonymity for those accused of sexual crimes such as rape, saying that “I should never have been charged and put through this horrendous ordeal.”

“[A sexual allegation] impacts future prospects and you are never allowed to fully move forward when the fact that you have been accused is one click away on Google . . . The pendulum has swung too far and fairness and balance needs to be restored so that the presumption of innocence is not completely eroded,” he said in a statement read out by his solicitor, Hollie Alcock.

“All sexual allegations should be investigated in a robust, fair and balanced manner and offenders should be brought to justice. However . . . police and CPS policy offers no protection to those wrongfully accused and many lives are left in tatters,” the statement said.

Video evidence rules ‘unfair to defendants’

Government plans to shield rape accusers from facing cross-examination in court have been criticised by lawyers.

Justice secretary Liz Truss had outlined proposals to let alleged victims give evidence by video recording, arguing this “will ensure victims of these crimes are protected.” But critics said the move would be unfair to defendants – and make it harder for juries to determine the truth.

Francis FitzGibbon QC, chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, said: “If it is likely to become the default for sex abuse cases, I think it’s likely to detract from the reality of trials. It would make it harder for juries to determine where truth lies.”

He added: “No one wants witnesses in court to be needlessly stressed, that’s why the law already allows them to give evidence by live-link or behind screens. Trials are dynamic, the focus can shift rapidly, and those in court need to respond in real time.”

‘Courts unprepared to pre-record evidence’

Zoe Gascoyne, chairman of the Criminal Law Solicitors Association, said the courts were unprepared to pre-record evidence for hundreds of cases.

John Cooper, QC, a criminal barrister, said: “Everyone wants to ensure that complainants give best evidence but that must be balanced with a defendant’s fair-trial rights.”

A pilot scheme which tested the reforms in three courts found that defendants pleaded guilty in almost half (48%) of all concluded cases where the alleged victim was cross-examined on tape before trial, compared with 9% in cases where they were cross-examined via live video link.

Fewer trials also failed to proceed. Some 13% of trials did not proceed where the alleged victim gave tape-recorded evidence, compared with 27% where witnesses gave live video-link evidence.

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