Man served 15 years for rape that 'didn't happen'

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The Independent Online

A man who spent 15 years in prison for a rape a judge said "almost certainly never happened" began his new life of freedom yesterday.

Roy Burnett, 56, a gardener from Bromley, Kent, was cleared yesterday by the Court of Appeal of raping and seriously assaulting a 20-year-old nurse in 1985. The Director of Public Prosecutions has now been asked by the court to consider bringing charges against the woman after a police investigation revealed she had made a false complaint of rape in 1998.

Lord Justice Judge, sitting in London with Mr Justice Wright and Mrs Justice Rafferty, said: "If nothing else, this case provides a salutary reminder that an allegation of rape is not always true and that the man against whom it is made is not necessarily guilty."

Throughout his imprisonment, Mr Burnett had consistently denied the crime, for which he was given a life sentence, but it wasn't until police in Devon informed the Metropolitan police about the false complaint that he had any realistic grounds of appeal.

Lord Justice Judge said if it had not been for the police's action Mr Burnett "might have continued to be incarcerated for many years yet". He said the false allegation made by the woman in 1998, in which she gave inconsistent accounts of being attacked by two men in a car, raised serious questions about her credibility.

When Mr Burnett's case reached the Court of Appeal, the Crown did not seek to uphold his conviction because she could no longer be relied on as a truthful witness.

Although she remained adamant that her complaint against Mr Burnett was true - that he followed her home from a bus, dragged her into woodland and threatened her with a knife before raping her - she declined to give evidence in the appeal.

But the judge said a re-examination of the evidence given at the Old Bailey in 1986 revealed many inconsistencies in her various accounts of what happened and her description of her alleged assailant. Scratch marks on her body, shown in photographs taken of her at the time, were, according to fresh expert evidence, "typical of self-inflicted injury".

Someone capable of inflicting those widespread injuries on herself would be well-able to damage her own clothes, said the judge. The absence of other injuries, which would have been expected if she had been attacked in the way she claimed, was "surprising to the point of incredulity".

Judge Laws added: "After anxious reflection on all the evidence now available, each member of the court has felt impelled to the conclusion that the only realistic explanation for the significant variations in her accounts is that these particular allegations of rape, buggery and assault occasioning actual bodily harm were not true."

The judge said the court was troubled about Burnett's immediate future. There was anxiety that he might have become institutionalised. A great deal of trouble had been taken to find him suitable accommodation "so that he may be gradually rehabilitated into the community".

The court had heard that Mr Burnett had a criminal record, including offences of dishonesty, violence and, as a young man, indecent assault. His mental acuity was described as "limited". But he consistently protested his innocence of the rape and, because of his refusal to admit guilt, all his applications for parole were turned down.