This is the joint website of  Women Against Rape and Black Women's Rape Action Project. Both organisations are based on self-help and provide support, legal information and advocacy. We campaign for justice and protection for all women and girls, including asylum seekers, who have suffered sexual, domestic and/or racist violence.

WAR was founded in 1976. It has won changes in the law, such as making rape in marriage a crime, set legal precedents and achieved compensation for many women. BWRAP was founded in 1991. It focuses on getting justice for women of colour, bringing out the particular discrimination they face. It has prevented the deportation of many rape survivors. Both organisations are multiracial.

 

 

 

The Defence Case

Court report – the Defence case

DS Wood was recalled to the witness box to answer the questions he was unable to answer in previous days. He confirmed that:
- Vaginal swabs had not been tested for lubricant (although Mrs Sherwood had always said the rapist used a condom).
- Mrs Sherwood had not been seen “vigorously hitting herself” in the vagina in order to cause injury, as claimed by the prosecutor, but that two officers claimed to have seen her “rubbing herself”.

Mrs Sherwood later explained that she had tried to shift her hips as she was numb on the cold ground and that an officer had pulled her legs straight telling her to stay still. She emphatically denied injuring herself.

The Defence case began on Tuesday 2 Feb. A lot of details had already come out in the police video interviews which were played in court. Alan Kent QC established that she is a 52-year old woman with three girls, two at school and one in her 20s who works for the council. Far from being lonely or bored as had been claimed by the prosecution, she has a busy day, taking the girls to school, meeting friends, and until recently she was a registered child-minder. Every evening, she would take the girls to classes and clubs, and walk her dogs while they were in activities. She walks dogs daily, in the mornings and evenings, at local beauty spot Haresfield, and has walked there for 30 years. Over the past 18 years she walks daily with anything from seven to 15 other dog walkers. She is a hobby dog breeder. Friends often ask her to look after their dogs when they go away, even if it means travelling over a hundred miles as they have moved away from the area, friends trust her with their dogs.

She had been hurt several times by men in the past, leaving her shortly after her children were born, so was wary of getting involved with anyone, and had declined several offers. It was only when she met Graham Kimber, a friend for seven years who also walked his dog at Haresfield, that she decided in early 2008 to have a sexual relationship, after he persistently asked her for three years. He told her of his loveless marriage. She had introduced him to her children months before they got involved, to make sure they all got on. Their relationship became physical in February 2008, some months before she was raped by the stalker. So preceding the rapes, she was quite happy, her daughter was starting to recover from cancer, she had her girls and her dogs and a new relationship.

The QC took Mrs Sherwood through each incident involving the stalker, asking if she stood by them as the truth. She said yes, she stood by every one of them.

He asked why she had not made a police statement til March 2008, although the stalker had got back in touch in September 2007. She said she was already aware of scepticism from the police in 2001. At that time her daughter who was 11 had heard a man on the roof at night and he banged on her window, and next morning they had seen his footprints in the frost. Police officers did not attend for six hours, the frost had melted, and Mrs Sherwood noticed the officers raise their eyebrows and smirk to each other. Several of her friends had all said the police don’t believe single women with a stalker, so why report to them.

But as the car chases and calls became more persistent and threatening, she spoke to a friend who worked for the police, who urged her to report it, so she made a statement in March 2008. Police then told her to call 999 about any thing that concerned her.

They installed a tape recorder on her phone line, telling her she was to press the record button if the stalker rang. The stalker called her mobile later that day and said he would be unable to call the landline for a while.

In 2001 BT had informed her that calls had been made from local phone boxes, but the police had not chased up the records. BT said they could only act if more than five calls came from one number.

The recorder the police gave her for her mobile was cumbersome and not suited to a slider phone. Before she could fit it on each time it rang, callers were hanging up. So she stopped using it.

One night in April 2008 the stalker came into her house, unlocking the front door. She had gone downstairs to see what had disturbed her dogs, and could see the man’s face by the light of an infra red lamp, which was keeping her puppies warm. When the Scenes of Crime Officer attended a few hours later, he was annoyed to hear that the area had not been preserved and several officers had walked over the floor.

Asked why she reported the man who drove into her daughter’s car in April 2008, she said that in the heat of a 999 emergency call she thought he was or could be the stalker. She had been chased and harassed by drivers persistently for 9 months, and this man’s driving was wild and aggressive. While she and her daughter’s car were blocking the lane, he had come fast uphill towards them, came to a dramatic halt inches behind, was riding the clutch and then made contact and was rocking the daughter’s car with his wheels spinning and gravel flying. It was like was trying to push her daughter’s car out of the way, but she had her handbrake on. She took off and he had then chased the frightened daughter along the lane to her house and then driven off. She reported it to police and he was arrested. Later that day, Mrs Sherwood was interviewed and stated very clearly three times that she couldn’t see his face properly, as he had kept his head down and wearing sunglasses. She repeatedly asked to see the man they had arrested, as she wanted to know if it was the stalker, but DS Wood would not let her see him until the next day.

Next day, at the ID procedure she said he was definitely not the stalker. Then she overheard a woman trainee detective say to a colleague, “She has let us all down. She’s a sad lonely 50-year-old whose husband left her with three kids and she can’t get a man. This case is very frustrating, we haven’t a shred of evidence, and it doesn’t add up. She’s made it all up in her head. She is paranoid and may be having some sort of mental breakdown.” The detective had admitted earlier on the stand that she had said some of this.

After she had been some hours in the witness box, the QC asked if after she had been deceived into attending the police station and arrested, the legal representative Terry Curr had gone through the issues with her in anything like this detail before she was interviewed under arrest. She said he had not, he 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 the confession under his threat that she was going to prison and her kids would be taken away. She said, “The day I was arrested I was really shocked, I was to pick up four children from school and I had two children being dropped at my house. While the police reported me to social services, it slipped their minds to sort out the childcare. They have gone on and on about putting in place a suicide strategy, but when they released me that day, they just dumped me with no house key, no car key or mobile phone – nothing. And it’s supposed to be a caring society.” Within hours of her release, she had told friends she had been forced to say she lied under extreme duress, and has maintained this up to the present day.

She confirmed that when she was raped she did not injure herself. 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.

At the end of the Defence evidence in chief, the QC played police covert CCTV footage that shows a man coming up her drive, half an hour before she was abducted. The officer in the case, DS Wood had said he hadn’t known about this footage.

Some CCTV clips from cameras installed by Mrs Sherwood’s partner Graham at the front and back of the house were played. A hooded man can be seen making his way across the back garden at night, she said the whole family was out for the evening. Other clips showed vehicles driving very slowly past the house in the early hours on different dates. A man is seen walking along the cul-de-sac wearing a hooded jacket, which she pointed out was seconds after a gift of toiletries had been put through her garage window. She said cars hardly ever come down their lane as it is not a through road, particularly late at night.

On Wednesday 3 February, the Prosecutor Simon Morgan began cross-examinating Mrs Sherwood. He ridiculed her CCTV clips, because she had no registration numbers and couldn’t say what precise make or colour the the vehicles were. He claimed that as the figure seen on film wore a hooded jacket, you cannot see the eyes or hairline so nobody could be identified. Mrs Sherwood pointed out that exactly the same can be said for the police covert footage that they claim is her. That is also a fleeting shot in the dark of a figure wearing a hooded jacket.

For the next three days Mr Morgan challenged Mrs Sherwood’s accounts, pausing every few hours to call her a liar and a fantacist. He told her to make a scale between one and 10 of how scared she was at each point, and then ridiculed her when she said the scale was nine after a car chased her. She maintained it all happened just as she had said.

He implied it was suspicious that she had burnt most but handed some samples of the stalker’s gifts and cards to her defence team, yet they had not been presented in court.

She said the police phone technician who gave evidence earlier in the trial that the machine would record all her calls had made a mistake. His statement was over a year later, and she and her daughter were both there when he explained how to press the record button. She said the two 45 minute tapes he had left would have been filled in a couple of days if all her personal calls were recorded. Mr Morgan ridiculed this.

He said it was strange that no nuisance calls had been detected and why had she not kept a full log of all the calls. She said that she had informed her solicitor of the calls. And she had learnt through her own inquiries that it is possible to eavesdrop on phone calls both mobile and landlines, and to call without disclosing a number, and send self-destruct text messages that disappear in seconds, the technology is widely available on the internet. He asked where was the phone expert who backed up her claims? She said her partner Graham had dealt with them and while she could not give their names, he could.

Mr Morgan spent many hours suggesting that Mrs Sherwood is either an irresponsible mother or the stalker did not exist. He asked why else would any mother leave their children, of 11 and 13 alone in the house while they walked their dogs. He said many times that she cares more about her dogs than about her children, which she strongly denied. She explained that she was scared but that she was trying to maintain a sense of normality, and that as a single mum she’d done her best to protect them. In 2007 she said she had thought the caller was just a weirdo, some of his messages were childish, he was trying to scare her. Later she got more scared, and didn’t leave the children at home unless the older daughter was present. After two days of repeating this accusation, she eventually replied, “What do you expect me to do, barricade myself the house and never leave?” The prosecutor spent a lot of time fishing for an occasion when she had left them alone for a time.

He said she was irresponsible for not telling social services and parents of child-minded children that she had a stalker. She then said she had in fact told the parents. She made it clear many times that the target was always her, not children. It came out later that the police officers who were advising her about her safety had not told her she should inform social services. But they reported her to social services when they wrongly assumed she was caring for children she wasn’t supposed to.

He asked her what safety measures she had taken. When she said a movement sensor light was placed in the back garden but the stalker had repeatedly cut the electric cable, so she got tired of repairing it, he ridiculed her. He said she should have put in cameras sooner than she did, ignoring that she could not afford this. Graham had put them up after he moved in. She had stopped using the house alarm, as setting it was so loud that the girls were woken up. Mr Morgan said it was irresponsible. He asked how well they would sleep if she had been murdered.

On the first rape, he insisted that she look at the photos of her own injuries, and the phone she had used at the time, both of which clearly caused her considerable distress, but she was determined to get through the ordeal. He reminded her that an expert pathologist had given evidence that the cuts looked self-inflicted. He put it to her that she had cut herself in the toilets at Tesco when she popped in for ten minutes on the way to walk her dogs. She said this was untrue and that she had never self-harmed. The bandage gag was tied in a bow, which suggested she had put it on herself, as it was easier to untie than a knot.

On the second rape, he said that she had tied her own hands above her head to the fence with gaffer tape. He pointed out a statement she had made to police that she rarely drank strong alcohol, like the vodka the rapist had forced her to drink, but that in the recent period she had drunk quite a lot of vodka with her friend. She said she had barely touched the glass her friend gave her. She hardly ever drank alcohol. She emphatically denied all these assertions.

The Defence called four witnesses. A neighbour had seen a black motorbike, parked unusually at the foot of Mrs Sherwood’s drive, after midnight around the dates she was attacked, before she had been told of any bike. A dog walking friend had seen a parcel left on Mrs Sherwood’s car after a walk, she had arrived after Mrs Sherwood and walked past the car where the parcel was found later, to put something in the bin, and she arrived back at the car at the same time as the other walkers, so there was no way Mrs Sherwood could have placed the parcel there. She had also seen a motorbike, which struck her as unusual as most people there walk dogs and come in cars.

Mrs Sherwood’s daughter Hayley took the stand. She had seen her mum in hospital hours after being raped, and wept as she described how injured and scared her mum looked. She explained the incident when the motorist drove into her car. She said she had been scared by the way her car was rocking, not only because it may be her mother’s stalker, but that in itself it was aggressive behaviour. She described seeing a suspicious looking man in the track leading into fields behind their house one evening when she drove home from work. When her car lights fell on him, he ran off, and she pressed the alarm to call the police. She had been present when her mum received a card in the post, with a picture of a clock, with the words, “tick tock”. She found it threatening and menacing. Her mum had tried to shrug it off as a childish prank.

Mrs Sherwood’s partner Graham Kimber then gave evidence about the stalker’s harassment that he had witnessed independently of Mrs Sherwood. He said he had heard a man on their roof several times, that he had seen a man running off down the road, after chasing him off the roof, that he had repaired their back garden fence many times, and found things in the garden which were disturbed or broken overnight. He gave the names of the phone experts and said he had received self-destruct texts. He had also seen cards and flowers, once they were left on their car after he and Mrs Sherwood had been together in Tescos.

He had made a police statement about a third rape in September 2008, on the advice of some police friends, although Mrs Sherwood had begged him not to. He described cuts to the face, back and legs, and a large red mark on her neck which later became a huge yellow bruise.

The Prosecution asked him if he was lying for his partner, or had an axe to grind against the police, both of which he denied. They then reported that Mr Kimber had served a prison sentence in 1996 for importing cannabis.

Closing speeches

Mr Morgan spoke for less than an hour, saying everything Mrs Sherwood had said was a lie. He said the devil was in the detail, and many of the things she had said were not possible or believable. She was a manipulative liar and a fantacist, who was making it all up and changing the story as she went along. There was no witness to the rapes she said had occurred. Why hadn’t she screamed? Items used in the attacks were things found at her house, such as garden ties, gaffer tape, juice bottle, bandage and washing up gloves. Why would a rapist or stalker who was DNA-aware leave things like that lying around at the scene, but take away other things? She had shown no remorse about the poor motorist who had been arrested.

He told the jury it was a sad case but not to feel sorry for her, as she had wasted hundreds of hours of police time, and was guilty.

For the Defence, Alan Kent QC said Mrs Sherwood didn’t want sympathy or pity, but justice. At 52, she has been publicly humiliated in court, her personal relationships have been discussed in detail, her parenting skills criticised and ridiculed, her dogs called mutts, how she took a pee behind the bushes was examined in public. She had been publicly stripped of dignity during a 14-hour cross examination.

The court had heard the police call her malicious, cruel manipulative and cunning in interview after she was arrested, and accuse her of having someone’s husband in her bed, but he was a family friend who was just staying with her for protection, as he had testified. The reality is that her friends have stood by her, several had travelled hundreds of miles to testify to what they have seen, and have said she is a bubbly, friendly woman who would do anything for anyone and was devoted to her kids and her dogs.

He said the police had been careless to say the least, to lose evidence such as the knife after photographing it and her car key. They had been suspicious of her all along, although their official policy was keeping an open mind, this clearly influenced the investigation. Were they trying to prove or disprove rape? They had declined a BBC inquiry about publicising the attacks.

He pointed out how shocking it must have been for her to be arrested, a 52-year-old who had never been in trouble before, and had been tricked into the station by deliberate deceit. Her right to make a call had been denied, and when she asked about it she was given an evasive answer. She was suspected of mental illness and was assessed by strangers. And her legal representative Terry Curr had not shown her evidence the police claimed to have against her, or taken instruction from her, but urged her to say it was all lies.

The CCTV evidence was very limited as the camera angle excluded the door she said she was taken through. Police identification was not by a facial mapping expert, but in very questionable circumstances – by the officer in the case, at a briefing with other officers. Contrast this with police ID procedures which are very strictly controlled, in this case the officers could well have influenced each other. Yet her legal rep Terry Curr never questioned that this was sound or legally admissible evidence. He never even showed her the footage. Instead he promised her a caution if she confessed to lying, and a charge of wasting police time. Or if she stood by her story she was going to prison and losing her kids. Mr Kent QC said alarm bells should have been ringing in his ears, and the police ears. The confession is unreliable.

He explained that the burden of proof is on the Prosecution to show that none of the harassment or violence happened, it was not for Mrs Sherwood to prove they did happen

He said it wasn’t surprising that some of the witnesses had given slightly differing accounts, word for word precision would indicate collusion. Like that of the two officers who both wrote in their pocket books that they saw Mrs Sherwood ‘touching’ her vagina to cause injury while she was tied to the fence, in the dark, and later both statements used the word ‘rubbing’.

He reminded the jury of each of the four Defence witnesses and three prosecution witnesses who remain Mrs Sherwood’s close relatives and friends, and that each of them had told the court what they had independently seen of the stalker. He said if the jury believes she had a stalker, they should not convict her. In reporting the motorist she had merely done what the police had told her to do: that is, report anything suspicious or worrying. Several of them had seen her immediately after being raped, and described a harrowing sight.

The expert pathologist was passing judgement about self-infliction without having visited the scene or seen the injuries, other than in photos.

He said the case boils down to one officer’s indentification of a person on CCTV, and a confession which was obtained in unreliable circumstances.

His Honour Judge Julian Lambert gave written legal directions and a summary of the evidence. These explained: the meaning of the charges; the reliability of circumstances in which identification was made from the CCTV evidence; that the defendant’s clean character should be taken into account in assessing whether she is believable and how likely is it that a woman starts on such a crime at her age; what weight to give the expert evidence; and that even if some lies had been told by any witness, this was not necessarily an indication that everything the witness said was a lie because people can lie for all kinds of different reasons, so don’t dismiss everything they said.

He said the expert witness pathologist was merely expressing an opinion, that some injuries were self-inflicted was only his view on the balance of probabilities, this is not the standard of proof required in a criminal trial. He said as the expert did not permit any cross examination the jury were not assisted, and he should know better than to start shouting down the Defence. He went through in detail which of the injuries the expert had said were self-inflicted because they looked ‘controlled’, rather than haphazard as the circumstances would suggest, but said the jury must make up their own mind.

Then he gave a summary of all the events Mrs Sherwood had reported, pointing out that it was up to the jury to judge the evidence for themselves, not just go on what he had highlighted. If they needed to hear or see any recorded evidence again it would be done in court. He was looking for a unanimous verdict.

After the jury had been out for 24 hours, they called everyone back to court to listen to the 999 call Mrs Sherwood made four minutes after the motorist had driven into her daughter’s car.

At the end of the next day, they came back offering a majority verdict of 10 to one. The judge sent them out again asking for a unanimous verdict. They finally returned after what had been in total just under two days with a unanimous verdict of guilty on each of the three counts.

Mrs Sherwood is to be sentenced on 4 March.
 

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