September 8, 2010

Accrington men tell sex assault charges 'hell'

9-8-2010 United Kingdom:

TWO Accrington men acquitted of sexually assaulting a woman have told of their ‘two years of hell’ since being accused.

Paul Berry, 33, of Park Road, Richard O’Brien, 26, of Norfolk Grove, both Accrington, and Jamie Clayton, 30, of Rossendale Avenue, Morecambe, were cleared by a jury following a second trial.

They were accused of carrying out a sex attack on the woman after she claimed they had bullied her outside a house in Riding Barn Street, Accrington, on September 26, 2008.

The men had insisted they just exchanged banter with the woman, and were stunned days later to find they had been accused of sexually assault.

Mr Berry and Mr O’Brien said the accusations led to them being shunned by friends and work colleagues and branded ‘rapists’ by vigilantes who vandalised their homes.

Both have added their voices to the debate over anonymity for men accused of sex attacks, saying ‘mud sticks’. The new coalition government were said to be proposing a change in the law to work alongside the anonymity of victims.

In April 2009, the three men first stood trial at Burnley Crown Court and jurors failed to reach a verdict.

When the retrial finished after four days, the jury took just 12 minutes to return unanimous not guilty verdicts last week.

Father-of-one Mr Berry, who works at Asda supermarket in Accrington, said: “When I was suspended from work, that made me look guilty straight away. I’ve had colleagues shouting ‘Oi, rapist’ in front of customers.

“My family have stood by me even though I can’t even go into my local pub.”

Mr O’Brien said he was angry about that the case was brought to court: “I’ve had my door kicked in and my windows smashed for something I didn’t do.

“This has been hanging over us for two years. It’s been embarrassing. I saw a friend and he wouldn’t speak to me, then his girlfriend said ‘You're up for raping a girl’.

“When we got the not guilty verdict it felt like the world had been lifted of my shoulders.

“Yet because we were accused, people still think we’re guilty. There should be anonymity for the accused until proven guilty.” ..Source.. Sam Chadderton, Crime reporter

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