Hotel rape investigation focuses on footballers' past

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The Independent Online

Police investigating the alleged rape of a 17-year-old by Premiership footballers are to examine whether other women have accused the men of sexual assault before.

Police investigating the alleged rape of a 17-year-old by Premiership footballers are to examine whether other women have accused the men of sexual assault before.

Officers are studying the background of the eight footballers at the centre of the allegations of rape at a hotel in central London early on Saturday. The teenager, a sixth-former from a Catholic school, claims she agreed to have sex with one player but seven others burst into their hotel room and three or four of them raped her while the others watched.

A police source said the case is likely to centre on consent, whether the teenager agreed to have sex with more than one man or with others present. The footballers at the centre of the allegations are to be questioned within weeks.

Officers will contact other forces and check criminal records to establish whether any of the footballers have been accused of a similar offences before or if there are any outstanding charges.

The identity of the alleged attackers, two of whom come from one Premiership club and six from another, are gradually being revealed in the press, against the wishes of police and the Attorney General, who have warned that the publicity could prejudice any future trial.

Details of the teenager, a part-time model said to look old for her age, were revealed in The Sun, attributed to a source close to her family. She claims that on Friday night she went to a party with a friend and ended up with one player, agreeing to go back with him to the Grosvenor House hotel in Park Lane, where she met several footballers in the bar.

She said she drank only Coke and later agreed to go upstairs to room 316 where she had sex with the footballer. During this, seven men allegedly barged into the room. Someone described as a source close to the girl's family told The Sun: "She claims she was forcibly raped by three or four of them on the bed. One was allegedly holding her down by her arms. It left her degraded and utterly humiliated." The source added: "She said she walked out of the room without saying a word when it was over, with the players' laughter ringing in her ears."

Later on the Saturday she reported the alleged incident to police. Detectives from Scotland Yard's Operation Sapphire unit, which specialises in investigating sexual offences, have questioned the teenager and are studying CCTV footage from the hotel.

Bedsheets from room 316, with other items, are being tested for DNA samples and the players could be asked to give DNA. Since the story broke on Monday, it has provoked a media frenzy, with a steady flow of information pointing to the identity of the suspects and their clubs. None of the accused men has been named in the press, but lawyers believe that is only a matter of time.

On Tuesday, the Daily Express stopped short of identifying one. Instead it ran a front- page story under the headline "Gagged. Rape case England soccer star tries to stop Daily Express naming him".

Several of the footballers accused of being involved, whose identity is known by journalists, have been approached by the media. Even the mother of the England footballer was approached.

The media is bound by the defamation laws and the Contempt of Court Act, intended to prevent prejudicial information being made public.

But as in the cases of the television presenter John Leslie, who was eventually identified as the unnamed alleged rapist in Ulrika Jonsson's autobiography, the threat of legal action is often of little deterrence. Mr Leslie, who was sacked as a presenter of ITV's This Morning was never charged for the alleged rape. He always denied the offence.

The first serious step towards identifying the players came yesterday when the Daily Sport named the club, under the headline "Premiership Sex Scandal", at the centre of the allegations. The names of players suspected of being involved have also been posted on football websites and chatrooms.

Mark Stephens, a solicitor who has represented many celebrity clients, believes there should be new laws to prevent people being named on the internet before police action is taken. He said: "No longer do members of the public wait for information to be published or broadcast; they are actively seeking it, which is leading to the spread of e-mails, texts, and scurrilous websites."