This is frightening. Amy Clare shared this BBC story about Mrs Gail Sherwood, who has been sentenced to two years in jail for perverting the course of justice by making false rape allegations. This follows claims that she was stalked by an anonymous person in 2000 and 2001 and from Sept 2007 to the present, and suffered two rapes, in April and June 2008. No one has been arrested for these rapes. I was all ready to write a post bemoaning the obvious delight the media takes in reporting these kind of cases at the expense of any decent coverage of violence against women and the rape conviction rate, but then I did some more research.
It turns out that Women Against Rape have been supporting Mrs Sherwood for the last 18 months. They have full details of the investigation and court case. These reveal a catalogue of failings on the part of the police and lead me to conclude that Mrs Sherwood did not lie about the rapes and has been the further victim of a horrifying miscarriage of justice. I urge you to read the full reports yourself, but some of the key points include:
Trigger warning for description of rape scene, physical examination and extreme victim blaming.
Police saw the aftermath of one of the rapes themselves: Two male police officers testified about the first alleged rape on 27 April 2008. They found Mrs Sherwood half naked in a remote field near Haresfield, her hands tied to a fence above her head. Both said that she was visibly suffering from shock, and that they took off their coats and tried to keep her talking so she would not lose consciousness. They had been very concerned about her.
Injuries consistent with rape: A doctor (forensic medical examiner) testified to having found a large number of injuries. She recorded that the injuries were consistent with rape but could also have been self-inflicted – a standard statement such doctors make.
Victim treated poorly during physical examination: One of the examinations was particularly brutal and the doctor spoke to her like a naughty child. She had been too embarrassed to say that after she was raped she had wet herself. And too terrified to report that the attacker had poured some liquid over her and wiped her down with cloths, making her terrified that he was going to set fire to her.
Police fail to understand rape victim’s reactions: Two women police officers reported to their seniors during the physical examination that they had concerns about Mrs Sherwood’s truthfulness, noting that she did not make eye contact and kept her head down. The doctor denied that having a male detective present might have caused distress and embarrassment.
Victim not believed because she did not fit the stereotypical rape victim profile: A female police officer who Mrs Sherwood claims to have overheard saying she was ‘a sad, lonely 50-year old who couldn’t get a man and had made it all up’ was spoken to by senior officers and forbidden from speaking to Mrs Sherwood but remained on the investigation team.
Key evidence ignored, lost or misinterpreted: The police failed to retrieve a stick that Mrs Sherwood claimed to have used to hit her assailant or test it for evidence, despite the stick being present in police photographs. A knife that she used to defend herself in the second rape was found and photographed but later lost. The CCTV footage cited as proof of Mrs Sherwood’s guilt in the BBC article did not clearly show that it was her leaving the house when she claimed to have been abducted.
Victim given inadequate legal representation when arrested: Mrs Sherwood said her legal representative had never shown her the 14-page document from the police, listing all their suspicions in the case, nor the CCTV evidence the police claimed was conclusive proof of her lying. She had signed a confession (to making a false allegation) under his threat that she was going to prison and her kids would be taken away. (This was later retracted.)
Victim ridiculed, called a liar and had character called into question by the prosecutor throughout the court case. He also tried to blame Mrs Sherwood for not doing enough to protect her family from the stalker, claimed she had caused the injuries herself and tied herself up.
Despite all this being highlighted by Mrs Sherwood’s defence, the jury found her guilty of perverting the course of justice by a majority of ten to one. The judge needed a unanimous verdict, which was agreed on two days later.
I’m sure I don’t need to describe to any of you quite how angry and sickened this case makes me. It highlights exactly why we need to keep fighting against the victim blaming and misogyny which infests the police, legal system and the general public that make up our juries. It also leads me to conclude that there is absolutely no way in hell I would ever report a rape to the police.
I have contacted Women Against Rape to ask if there’s anything we can do to support Mrs Sherwood and I will report back when I hear from them.