'Red Dwarf' star cleared of rape


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The Independent Online

A return to anonymity for rape defendants as well as victims, and an urgent review of police procedures used to contact specialist doctors in rape cases, were yesterday called for after Craig Charles, the actor, was found not guilty of rape and four other charges of indecent assault.

Mr Charles, 30, was acquitted along with co-accused, Jack Peploe, 36, at the end of a two-week trial at Southwark Crown Court in London. The jury took just one hour and 43 minutes to return not guilty verdicts on all the charges facing the two men. When the verdict was delivered Mr Charles broke down in tears as the two men hugged in the dock.

Mr Charles , the comic actor and star of the BBC's Red Dwarf series, spent three-and-a-half months in prison before being allowed bail. Outside the court Mr Charles attacked the "lamentable" case against him and called for a change in the law to give rape defendants anonymity. He complained that his name was in newspapers before the woman had signed a statement.

He said: "This is the end of a nine-month nightmare for me and my family."

In July last year Mr Charles and Mr Peploe, the owner of a fitness machines company, were accused of raping a woman at her flat in south London. The prosecution claimed the two men raped the woman, subjected her to a series of degrading assaults and threatened her if she revealed what had happened.

During the trial Mr Charles admitted to once having a relationship with the woman in 1988. Both men also admitted to going to the woman's flat at 6am on the morning of 8 July last year "for breakfast". They said both they and the woman had snorted cocaine she had provided. The court also heard it was 30 hours before the woman was examined by a specialist doctor at a "rape suite" in Wimbledon.

Reading from a prepared statement, Mr Charles said that for three-and- a-half months "I was locked up for 23 hours a day and forced to urinate and defecate in a bucket in front of other people".

He said it was "horrendous'" that "all the lies the so-called victim told in court and were printed by the press were easily revealed by my QC Stephen Solley under cross-examination and were therefore there for any fair-minded police officer to see".

The acquittal of the two men is the second case in three weeks to raise the question of defendant anonymity. It follows the case of Michael Seear, the Surrey police constable, who wascleared of raping a colleague .

Commander Tom Williamson, chairman of the Metropolitan police serious sexual offences committee, admitted procedures had not worked "as smoothly as they usually do", and said a change in the system of contacting specialist doctors was being considered.

The Crown Prosecution Service also defended its decision to pursue the case.