Somerset

Damages awarded in sex assault case

A woman has said she has lost faith in the criminal justice system after it failed to convict a man charged with sexually assaulting her.

The woman, named as EB, has spoken out having won £31,640 in damages in the civil courts against the defendant.

He was found not guilty at Taunton Crown Court in 2006.

Her civil case was heard in the High Court by Mrs Justice Slade who found that the victim proved her case.

She described the man's behaviour as "despicable".

The victim claims he was acquitted because his previous conviction of sexual assault against a girl aged under 14 was not heard by the jury.

"It would have prejudiced the jury but potentially for the right reasons. It tends to be a crime that isn't just a one-off," she said.

'Despicable'

In 2004, the victim, who is now 28, told Avon and Somerset police she had been sexually abused by a family friend in Bridgwater when she was 10 and 11 years old.

The judge did not allow evidence from the victim's two friends to be heard in court because the judge believed it would prejudice the jury.

"I felt that the trial at the criminal court wasn't a fair trial from my point of view, I wasn't allowed any of my witnesses. I actually documented the assaults back in 1993 when they happened so we had documentary evidence from a person in authority," she said.

In the criminal court a jury has to find a defendant guilty "beyond reasonable doubt" in order to pass a guilty verdict. It is down to the prosecution to prove the defendant is guilty, rather than the defendant to prove he or she is innocent.

But in the civil court that burden of proof is lower so the court can decide "on the balance of probabilities" what is likely to have happened, and whether damages can be awarded.

'Brave thing'

Alan Collins was the solicitor acting on EB's behalf.

He said: "Most victims, for understandable reasons, don't feel able to come forward. She came across as someone who was compelling, very straightforward and clearly telling the truth."

She is now calling for other abuse victims to consider taking their abusers to a civil court if the Crown Prosecution Service fails to secure a conviction in the criminal courts.

"Sadly it won't give him a criminal conviction as such, it's just to punish him financially but really just to let him know he cannot get away with doing this, or at least in my case he cannot get away with doing it."

The case was heard between 1 and 3 November 2010 and judgement was handed down at the High Court on 17 February 2011.

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