False rape claim, 10 months in jail

At a rape trial in Dunedin a man was cleared after the alleged victim (13 years old when she made her first complaints) admitted in court she had made false allegations. This was after the man had spent 10 months in jail on remand.

ODT: Cleared after 10 months in jail

Christopher John Ferguson (31) lived that nightmare for nearly a year while he sat in jail awaiting trial at the Dunedin District Court and a chance to clear his name.

Eight sex charges – including two of rape – were dismissed by Judge Michael Crosbie after the primary complainant admitted she had made everything up.

The 13-year-old girl was interviewed by police in 2013 when she made allegations of sexual violation and then in 2015 she came forward with further claims of repeated rapes that supposedly occurred over several weeks.

Added to an allegation of drunkenly groping another child, police finally charged Mr Ferguson in May 2016.

He denied the charges but was denied bail, partly because of convictions for violence on his criminal record.

Mr Ferguson spent the next 10 months behind bars as an accused sex offender.

But at the trial this week:

After viewing more than three hours of video interviews with the young girl, during which she gradually painted a picture of constant abuse, counsel Anne Stevens cross-examined.

In her opening, she told the 12 jurors the allegations against her client were fabricated; and so it proved.

”Mrs Stevens’ questions were firm but fair and initially elicited some responses that saw [the complainant] become upset and need to take a break,” Judge Crosbie said.

When the trial resumed, the girl resiled from her original story and said none of it had happened.

”[She] said Mr Ferguson did not touch her on any occasion,” the judge explained to the jury before dismissing them yesterday.

”She confirmed she was not under pressure and she was telling the truth.”

The girl told him she was having family problems at the time.

”That’s her roundabout explanation,” Judge Crosbie said.

Though scenarios like it were not unheard of, the judge said, ”what you’ve seen is out of the ordinary and what we’d regard as an exceptional case”.

”I’m satisfied we now know the truth. What you have is a trial process that’s worked,” he said.

So the man walked free. But while the trial process eventually worked he had paid a high price.

Despite the ordeal, the man said he bore no great animosity towards the girl who lied about him.

”I do feel sorry for the complainant for carrying those lies around for so long,” Mr Ferguson said.

”It feels great to finally have my name cleared.”

It is great he was cleared, eventually, and while he expressed no animosity he would be justified in feeling aggrieved at the girl’s false accusations.

In this case it was multiple complaints – by multiple girls according to the ODT timeline:

October 2010: First girl tells police Christopher John Ferguson sneaked into her bedroom and molested her in May.

April 2011: He is interviewed by police.

June 2011: Police choose not to prosecute.

July 2013: Second complainant says Mr Ferguson raped her.

October 2013: He denies the offending and police again choose not to lay charges.

June 2015: The same girl makes further. claims of molestation and rape.

May 2016: Mr Ferguson is interviewed and charged with three counts of indecent assault, three of sexual violation by unlawful sexual connection and two of rape.

So this has been over nearly 7 years, with the man spending the last 10 months in prison.

There is no other information about whether the first complainant was linked in any way to the second complainant.

Though the older complainant had stood by her allegations at trial, he noted the police had opted not to press charges following her statement in 2011.

”It’s fair to assume the decision was based on insufficiency of evidence or the complainant or both,” the judge said.

Making false rape accusations is a serious offence, or it should be. There is no indication of what repercussions there should be for making the false complaints.

False rape complaints not only impact on those who are falsely accused, it also allows people who try to play down the seriousness of the number and severity of sex crimes to claim it isn’t as big a problem as it seems to be.

And it also makes it harder for people who make genuine sexual assault and rape complaints.

A Rape Crisis Dunedin community educator Anna Hoek-Sims said instances of false allegations made it harder for real sexual-abuse victims to come forward because most feared they would not be believed.

She stressed only about 2% of cases that made it to court were based on fabricated claims and said it was important to consider why it happened.

”I think we need to keep in mind that people who make false complaints often make them for another reason, such as personal issues, health issues or even past history of sexual violence and often when something like this happens, the person can be forgotten in the fury that follows a false accusation.

”I hope that in this case, the person receives the support they need.”

Support, yes, it seems a sad situation where a young teenager makes such serious accusations. But it is also a bad situation and there should also be appropriate consequences.

2% of cases being false accusations doesn’t sound like many but they tend to stand out in the news as ‘ordinary’ or legitimate sexual assault cases are common.

And 2% still amounts to a sizeable number.

justice.govt.nz: How much sexual victimisation is there?

We estimated 186,000 sexual offences were committed in 2013. While we found no statistically significant change between 2008 and 2013, we did record a decrease between 2005 (317,000) and 2013.

When we look at the percentage of New Zealanders who were victims of sexual violence, we found 2.1% of adults experienced one or more sexual offences in 2013. This decreased over time, from 3.9% in 2005 to 2.8% in 2008 and down to 2.1% in 2013.

Looking at sexual victimisation by gender, we found that women (2.9%) were more likely than men (1.1%) to have experienced a sexual offence in 2013.

Overall, we found there were 5.2 sexual offences for every 100 adults in 2013.

That is 52 offences for every 1,000 adults. 2% of that is 1 false complaint per 1,000 adults.

The number of both sexual offences and false complaints is horrifyingly high.