Sleepwalker cleared of raping woman

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The Independent Online

A man accused of raping a woman who was staying in his flat has been cleared by a jury after he said he suffered from sleepwalking.

James Bilton, 22, a bar worker, said he could not remember the alleged attack at his home in York and must have been sleepwalking, which he told police he had done since he was 13.

The defence of sleepwalking is classified in law as automatism and is a defence to committing a crime that requires a guilty mind.

Mr Bilton, who had denied the charges, was acquitted of three counts of rape by a jury at York Crown Court yesterday after a week-long trial. The jury of seven women and five men took two and a half hours to clear Mr Bilton on all three counts. After the verdicts, Mr Bilton slumped forward in the dock. He left in tears, supported by friends and family, and declined to comment.

During the trial the jury was told that the victim knew Mr Bilton. After a night out with her in March this year, Mr Bilton put her to bed in his flat while he slept on the sofa. Later, the 22-year-old victim said she woke to find her trousers had been taken off and Mr Bilton was assaulting her. She denied she consented to sex.

Mr Bilton said he had a history of sleepwalking which ran in the family. He could only remember waking up after sticking to the leather sofa and was "completely oblivious" to what had allegedly happened.

Dr Ishaad Ebrahim, a sleep expert, said Mr Bilton did suffer from the condition and that sleepwalkers can carry out actions which they do when awake.

The court was told that between 1 and 2.5 per cent of adults sleepwalk. Of those, 4 per cent carry out sexual behaviour.