The region’s top lawyer has explained why no charges were brought after allegations a woman was raped in Sunderland.
Six men were arrested by police after reports that a 26-year-old woman had been attacked at an address in Peel Street overnight between Saturday, September 3 and Sunday, September 4, last year.
However, the Crown Prosecution Service took the decision there was “insufficient evidence” to proceed with the case.
Demonstrations have been held in Sunderland City Centre in support of the woman.
Today, John Dilworth, acting Chief Crown Prosecutor for CPS North East, explained why no charges had been brought - and also addressed “damaging claims” and “inaccurate articles” that had been written about the incident, primarily on social media.
Mr Dilworth said: “We are aware of inaccurate articles circulating about this case, primarily on social media, but also in some sections of the mainstream press.
“Some of these articles make damaging claims about the nature of the incident, along with the way in which it was handled by prosecutors and police.
“As prosecutors, it is the role of the CPS to review the evidence in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors, which requires that the two stage test is met before criminal charges can be brought; an evidential stage and a public interest stage.
“In this case, following a thorough investigation by Northumbria Police, the CPS received a file of evidence in relation to one male suspect in respect of a single allegation of rape. After careful consideration of the evidence, we decided that no further action should be taken against this man because there was insufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction.
“Five other men were arrested by police in the course of their enquiries, but there was insufficient evidence to justify a referral to prosecutors and they were released with no further action.”
The Echo has been told that, as part of their investigation police viewed hours of CCTV, spoke to independent witnesses and carried out multiple forensic examinations including DNA testing.
The Echo understands that the CCTV and forensic evidence gathered significantly undermined any assertion that the complainant had been kidnapped or drugged, or that multiple assailants had been involved in an attack of the nature being suggested online.
The Echo’s coverage
The Echo reported on the assault allegations when they were first investigated by the police and the subsequent arrests and decision not to charge anyone.
We have received numerous inquiries asking why we have not covered the gatherings that have taken place in Sunderland city centre.
However, the woman at the centre of the case has, on more than one occasion, contacted the newspaper to insist nothing is reported about the matter.
She said: “I’d like to make this clear that I do not give any permission for any stories to be wrote about the incident that happened in Peel Street several months back.”
From the time an allegation is made, victims of a wide range of sexual offences are given anonymity for life and the Sexual Offences (Amendment Act) 1992 imposes a lifetime ban on reporting any matter likely to identify the victim of a sexual offence. As a responsible publisher, the Echo abides by this law.
Even when the defendant is acquitted or the charges dropped, the anonymity remains unless the alleged victim signs a written waiver allowing her anonymity to be lifted.
What the police say
Earlier this month, Chief Supt Ged Noble, the Southern Area Commander at Northumbria Police, said: “Reporting on social media about a complaint of a serious assault in Peel Street Hendon last year has grossly misrepresented the facts.
“Northumbria Police fully and properly investigated the matter and ensured the victim was treated with compassion, expertly supported and kept updated.
“On receiving the complaint, Northumbria Police made early arrests and conducted an extensive investigation. Officers sensitively gained the complainant’s recollection of the event, secured CCTV footage, interviewed independent witnesses and obtained DNA and other forensic samples.
“In accordance with regulations the suspects were bailed pending the results of forensic tests and following the result a full file-of-evidence was passed to the CPS, who alone have statutory responsibility to make a decision on whether or not criminal charges are brought.
“The CPS took the decision that no action should be taken, in accordance with the evidential test set out in the Code for Crown Prosecutors.
“The complainant has been informed of her right to appeal that decision and officers remain in close contact with her and are committed to offering her and her family all necessary support and advice.
“It is disappointing that the victim is now having to endure a situation where the case she was involved in is being subjected to entirely misleading reporting, based on unfounded information, via social media outlets.
“This would seem to be a deliberate attempt to undermine the very strong community-cohesion that currently exists across the force area and we urge our communities to see it for what it is.”
Following the statement made by Mr Dilworth, Ch Supt Noble added: “I can confirm that we have received a petition from the victim requesting a review of the police investigation.
“We are taking this petition very seriously as it is an operational matter for the police.
“We are actively encouraging and supporting the victim to take up the ‘Victims Right to Review’ where she and her representatives can go through all of the evidence with the CPS, and in particular the CCTV and forensic evidence which, as noted by the CPS, significantly undermined any assertion that the complainant had been kidnapped or drugged, or that multiple assailants had been involved in an attack of the nature being suggested online.”