‘I locked myself in the toilet, and would not come out because I was in fear of my life’
By Mark Conrad | 28 May 2014
Detectives told the woman who was allegedly raped by a former cabinet minister that she was not clear enough in refusing consent to sex.
According to the woman – whom we called “Jane” to protect her identity – that was a key reason why police were dropping their investigation into her rape claim.
But the comments suggest a failure by police to understand that, even under the law at the time of the alleged attack in 1967, “submission through fear” does not count as consent.
“Lack of consent could be inferred from the surrounding circumstances, such as submission through fear” – CPS guidance
Jane said to Exaro: “Surely, the fact that I had locked myself in the toilet, and would not come out because I was in fear of my life, makes clear that I was not consenting to sex?”
The detectives’ confusion about the consent issue comes as police are coming under pressure to explain why they failed to follow a key guideline on evidence-gathering for rape cases during the investigation by failing to interview the ex-minister.
At a meeting last October, one detective read from what he implied was an e-mail from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). Because Jane had not explicitly stated that she did not want to have sex with her alleged attacker, he said, her lack of consent was not sufficiently clear.
By her own account, she could not be sure that she had said, “No.”
But, according to her claim, he tricked her into the flat, then locked the front door. She says that she ran into the nearest room, the toilet, and locked herself in there.
He was hammering and kicking the door, and she was trapped. There was no other way out of the toilet. She had no choice, she thought, but to unlock the door. She was “struck dumb” with terror. As she put it, “I do not have any memory of words spoken.”
“My memory is that I came out like a lamb to the slaughter, as it were… I think that the state of mind that I was in when I came out of the toilet-
“I just shut down.”
She said that he guided her to the bedroom, where he raped her.
Tom Watson, Labour MP, in a letter to the director of public prosecutions, blasted the police for its “shocking” failure to question the ex-minister. “The elements of lack of freedom and capacity to consent,” he writes, “make the decision highly irregular.”
The Sexual Offences Act (2003) says that a person “consents if he or she agrees by choice, and has the freedom and capacity to make that choice.”
While past laws that attempted to define consent were flawed, the concept of refusing consent in such circumstances as described by Jane was well understood at the time.
An offence committed before May 2004 was prosecuted under the Sexual Offences Act (1956), which defined rape as “any act of non-consensual intercourse by a man with a person”, where the victim can be either male or female.
CPS guidance, crucially, in light of Jane’s allegations, outlines how courts had determined that a “lack of consent could be inferred from the surrounding circumstances, such as submission through fear.”
Therefore, the notion that a woman had to say no to make clear at the time of the alleged attack that she was refusing consent is simply wrong.
Jane says that the attack was a case of “submission through fear”.
Although there can be no certainty that a full investigation of Jane’s allegations would lead to a charge, let alone conviction, the police’s apparent misunderstanding of the law raises fresh questions about their conduct of the case.
Under the law at the time, the key issue over consent would be what was in the alleged attacker’s mind.
Therefore, says Jane, the police have to interview the ex-minister.
The Met refuses to comment on the case.
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