Rape victim's foul court ordeal

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The Independent Online
For six days it was the same - his low voice relentlessly asking the most intimate, the most unanswerable questions.

Sometimes the woman would work her handkerchief nervously in her hands, sometimes she hid her face. And sometimes she would just cry. The tranquillizers could not blot out the memories or stop the nausea that sent her rushing from the courtroom as Ralston Edwards picked away at that night in December she would give anything to forget.

Unwilling observers listened, sickened by his pleasure in this second degradation. "What side of the bed were you lying on when you say I first raped you?" he demanded. "Were your knickers on or off? You say I was well built down below and it hurt?"

Forced to recount every detail before a room full of strangers his victim did her best to respond. "I don't think you appreciate the terror you are putting me through," she said.

Yesterday, as the woman's courtroom ordeal ended in the conviction by the jury of Edwards, 42, of raping her twice, the Home Office announced it would review the legal convention that allows sex attackers to cross- examine their victims.

A coalition of police, victim-support organisations and women's groups have demanded a change in the law which allowed Edwards, who has a history of sexual offences, to question the woman in intimate detail because he was defending himself in court. His 34-year-old victim said: "The law must be changed - I do not want any other woman to go through what I have been through."

Afterwards, a Home Office spokeswoman said: "Cases like this are extremely rare but we will give consideration to the issues that have come out of it." At present only children cannot be cross-examined by defendants.

Detective Sergeant Milne Davidson, who was in charge of the case, said he was in no doubt that Edwards had "enjoyed every minute" he questioned his victim, while dressed in the same faded jumper and jeans he wore when he first attacked her in December.

After Edwards' conviction, the court heard he had previous convictions for rape and causing grevious bodily harm to his partner during an eight- hour beating. In 1991 he was jailed for two separate sexually motivated attacks on women.

Yesterday, Edwards was acquitted of a further charge of rape and one of buggery. Adjourning sentencing, Judge Ann Goddard told Edwards he could face life imprisonment. He asked to be legally represented at the next hearing.

During the trial, Judge Goddard said that Edwards had the right to represent himself, but the rules would have to be flexible because of his lack of legal training. She frequently interrupted Edwards' questioning to explain proper court procedure, and warned him not to repeatedly question the witness on the same point.

Yesterday, pressure grew for a review of the law. Julie Bindel, of Justice for Women, said: "Any man, whether or not they have committed rape, should not be allowed to put a woman through something like this. It should never have been allowed to happen." A Bar Council spokesman expressed concern about the effect on a victim in an open-ended cross examination.

However, Malcolm Fowler, a criminal law solicitor and deputy vice-president of the Birmingham Law Society, said there were dangers in altering court procedures for one sphere of litigation.

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