Last March, the Court of Criminal Appeal rejected rape hoaxer Jemma Beale’s appeal against her conviction for three counts of perjury and four counts of perverting the course of justice, and her ten-year prison sentence, imposed in 2017.
The Crown’s case was that Beale was a repeat false accuser. She had been alarmingly successful: time after time police and prosecutors had swallowed her bogus claims of sexual assault in the past. At her own trial, prosecutors highlighted:
a pattern of behaviour over many years in which she made allegedly false complaints of serious physical and sexual violence usually in graphic detail, and usually after she had been drinking and/or had an argument with her partner.
Beale’s appeal was taken up by a women’s rights NGO, named the Centre for Women’s Justice (CWJ). It was founded in 201 by the radical feminist solicitor, Harriet Wistrich, whose partner is the feminist campaigner Julie Bindel. The CWJ’s mission is: “To hold the state to account and challenge discrimination in the justice system around male violence against women and girls”.
The CWJ sought to amend Beale’s grounds of appeal, claiming that the trial judge had failed to give the jury necessary guidance on “rape myths and stereotypes”.
Now, certain harmful stereotypes do exist, though their impact can be exaggerated. All cases are fact-sensitive. In rape cases, judges give guidance as suggested by the Judicial College to enable juries to assess a complainant’s evidence fairly. But the novel feature of Beale’s argument was that she was no longer a complainant, but a convicted defendant.
Her counsel argued that, for the Crown to succeed, it had to prove that she was not a victim of sexual assault. She criticised the prosecution’s claim that Beale’s accounts were inherently improbable. She criticised the trial judge for not giving guidance of the type that would be given in a rape trial, on such matters as:
the delay in making a complaint, the appellant’s inconsistent accounts, her emotional distress when giving evidence, her intoxication and the lack of any signs of injury going to the issue of consent.
The appeal court noted that Beale had been raped herself, aged thirteen, “and suffered the inevitable consequences. She became a vulnerable adult.” However, a website supporting Beale, set up by “her loving parents”, provides a rather different perspective. It claims that she had struck up a relation with a fifteen year old boy when she was thirteen, and that they had “drunken sex” when she was aged fourteen.
It’s doubtful that this constituted rape, in the sense of non-consensual intercourse – as opposed to the colloquial expression, “statutory rape”, meaning sex with someone underage.
Drunk sex would not amount to rape (in the former sense), unless the level of intoxication is such that a person is effectively unable of giving meaningful consent. Whilst Beale was under 16, the Crown Prosecution Service guidance on youth offending states: “Consensual sexual activity between, for example, a 14 or 15 year-old and a teenage partner would not normally require criminal proceedings in the absence of aggravating features.”
Nor was this relationship a one-off. At Beale’s subsequent trial, this partner said that they had had intercourse about 60 times. She was taking the contraceptive pill, and even went to hospital on one occasion believing that she might be pregnant.
Beale’s history of accusations
As far as we know, Beale’s career as a professional non-victim started in 2008, when she accused a man of rape, and then retracted her claim.
In 2010 she got into a man’s car and had sex with him. Shen then accused him of rape. He argued that sex was consensual. She claimed that she had never had sex with a man, because she was gay. He was convicted, but only after a retrial.
Beale’s “victim impact statement” alleged that this rape had ruined her life. The Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority gave Beale £11, 000. Later, her partner said that Beale admitted lying for money.
In July 2012, Beale had a row with another man in a pub, during which she claimed that he grabbed her crotch. She then claimed to have been robbed and sexually assaulted by this man and his friends in a nearby car park, during which she suffered injuries. She claimed that cuts she sustained were from barbed wire.
At her own trial, the Crown argued that DNA evidence showed her injuries were self-inflicted. CCTV footage from inside the pub showed that Beale was the aggressor in an altercation. The main suspect later fled to Pakistan. Charges against him were dropped.
Later the same year, Beale reported that she had been assaulted by seven men, one of whom was an ex-boyfriend of her partner, and left unconscious. She withdrew this claim a week later, but then claimed to have received death threats by text messages from the ex. Police examined their phones, but could find no evidence to back up her claims.
In September 2013, Beale reported a burglary at her flat the previous month, stating that photographs of her had been defaced. She further claimed that in August she had been sexually assaulted outside her flat by one of two black men. She identified her alleged assailant as one of the men who raped her outside the Medical Centre in 2012. Her allegation was investigated thoroughly, but found to be unsubstantiated.
In November 2013, Beale was out drinking with friends. She persuaded one of them to go off with her to a secluded spot, where they had sex. She later accused him of threatening her with a large knife or machete, and then violently raping her, including attempted anal rape, and of cutting her between her legs with a knife. She also claimed that this man had taken her to meet eight men, four of whom had also raped her.
Unfortunately for Beale, no injuries were found on her. One of the men she accused was at home at the time of the alleged gang-rape, and so could not be a suspect. By this time, police were starting to grow suspicious of Beale and her myriad tales of woe.
In June 2014, they arrested her. Beale maintained the truth of her various complaints in a series of interviews.
The Court of Appeal was unpersuaded by Beale’s appeal to myths and stereotypes. She was a defendant and not a complainant. Moreover, there was hard evidence that she had lied. For example, her claim never to have had consensual sex with a man was demonstrably untrue. There was “an established pattern of making complaints after she had been drinking and had a row with her partner, and of manoeuvring men into a situation where she could have sex with them.”
As to her vulnerability, the Court accepted that vulnerable adults can be more susceptible to sexual exploitation. But in this case the jury was told about her history, and her diagnosis of borderline personality disorder. It was accepted that she had engaged in “outbursts” during her trial. Although Beale’s anonymity was removed following a contested hearing about the media’s right to report her name, and there was considerable coverage of the case, there was no evidence that contemporaneous media coverage had rendered the trial unfair. Nor was there any evidence that Beale’s “outbursts” were linked to the publicity she was getting at the time.
The appeal court refused to accept the appellant’s invitation to conflate the position of a complainant in a rape trial with that of an accused on trial for perjury and perverting the course of justice. It stated shortly:
Complainants, for obvious reasons, do not have the benefit of the protections offered to a defendant, the most important of which are the burden and standard of proof.
The appeal team tendered a report by a Dr Georgina Clifford, an expert in the impact of childhood trauma, who is the Director of London Trauma Specialists. She reported on the impact of Beale’s mental health difficulties for many years. She said that Beale suffers from both borderline personality disorder and post traumatic stress disorder, “and the latter is of a chronic kind. Amongst other findings, Dr Clifford listed the appellant’s history of suffering disassociation, depression, being bullied, she has self-harmed and she has a negative self-image.” Whilst in prison, Beale had resorted to self-harm and attempted suicide.
The appeal court had some reservations about Dr Clifford: “some of the content of the report […] seemed to us to stray beyond Dr Clifford’s expertise and may have betrayed a degree of a lack of objectivity.” Nevertheless, it concluded that this was an exceptional case, and that the trial judge had not erred in imposing a sentence of ten years. Though “stern, it was not excessive”. Beale’s lying had been extensive and prolonged, had caused much harm to the men whom she had accused, on one occasion she was motivated by financial gain, and she had displayed no remorse.
The problem of false accusers
The outcome of the appeal is unsurprising. However, Beale’s offending was somewhat extreme. Concern remains on the part of those who campaign against false allegations that the CPS and police are reluctant to charge complainants for making false accusations.
Even in a case as dramatic as that of the “chronic liar” Danny Day, who falsely accused a retired fireman named David Bryant of historic rapes, and succeeded in having him convicted and given a harsher sentence on appeal, no action was taken after Day was exposed and Bryant’s conviction overturned. Like Beale, Day claimed and was awarded £11, 000. Day also went on to sue for compensation. So why has Day not been prosecuted?
The false accusers of Liam Allen and Danny Day have also not faced any retribution. Again, why not?
Demonstrably false claims of sexual assault which led to arrest and charges and (sometimes) wrongful convictions are an attack on the integrity of the criminal justice system. They should not be tolerated.
One problem is ideological: the authorities are loathe to admit the accumulated wisdom of the common law. Rape, as generations of past judges acknowledged, is an allegation which is easy to make, but which can be very difficult to refute. As the present system has become increasingly victim-centric, however, it is no longer considered acceptable to make such observations.
This is all the more troubling in cases involving allegations dating back decades, where original evidence of the kind examined in Beale’s case (medical evidence, CCTV, phone records) may long since have disappeared.
The problem of proof is exacerbated where a case involves simply one person’s word against another. As the prominent legal blogger Matthew Scott observed:
without supporting evidence of some sort, it can simply be impossible for anyone safely to decide who is telling the truth when there is a clash of evidence.
Changes in the rules on disclosure, and cutbacks in funding for both defence and prosecuting agencies, also mean that existing exculpatory evidence can easily be overlooked. It is disturbing, but probably true, that less ambitious or extravagant liars than Beale have got away with it.
The present system is open to abuse by liars, fantasists, gold-diggers, and persons who (for a variety of psychological reasons) wish to adopt the victim role. Those responsible for policing and the operation of the criminal justice system are, however, reluctant to admit this for fear of falling foul of the powerful victims’ lobby, and women’s rights activists, who have effectively shut down debate on this important subject.
But as Professor Phil Rumney has argued:
To remain silent on a controversial topic in the face of myths and ignorance is likely to do more harm than good in terms of societal attitudes and professional practice.
The CPS Guidance reflects this reluctance to confront the problem. Its position is that it will rarely be in the public interest to bring a prosecution for public justice offences arising out of a false claim of sexual offences, or domestic violence. That will bring comfort to malicious false accusers, who intentionally make false allegations.
The CPS requires prosecutors to take into account the vulnerabilities of persons said to have made false allegations:
The vulnerabilities of the suspect under consideration must be properly assessed and taken into account. Mental health issues, learning difficulties, age, maturity and substance misuse issues may have an impact at both stages of the Full Code test.
But people who make false (i.e. unfounded) allegations in order to gain attention or sympathy should not be given a free pass, in my view. That is no justification for making false allegations of sexual assault, any more than it would be a complete defence to theft.
We do not fail to prosecute offences of homicide simply because the perpetrator is mentally ill: on the contrary, such offending is seen to pose a particular risk to society, precisely because the offender is mentally disturbed and volatile. Why should we not take a similarly rigorous approach to disturbed souls who make false accusations?