Rape victim jailed for making "false" allegations

by Laura // 5 March 2010, 12:27

This is frightening. Amy Clare shared this BBC story about Mrs Gail Sherwood, who has been sentenced to two years in jail for perverting the course of justice by making false rape allegations. This follows claims that she was stalked by an anonymous person in 2000 and 2001 and from Sept 2007 to the present, and suffered two rapes, in April and June 2008. No one has been arrested for these rapes. I was all ready to write a post bemoaning the obvious delight the media takes in reporting these kind of cases at the expense of any decent coverage of violence against women and the rape conviction rate, but then I did some more research.

It turns out that Women Against Rape have been supporting Mrs Sherwood for the last 18 months. They have full details of the investigation and court case. These reveal a catalogue of failings on the part of the police and lead me to conclude that Mrs Sherwood did not lie about the rapes and has been the further victim of a horrifying miscarriage of justice. I urge you to read the full reports yourself, but some of the key points include:

Trigger warning for description of rape scene, physical examination and extreme victim blaming.

Police saw the aftermath of one of the rapes themselves: Two male police officers testified about the first alleged rape on 27 April 2008. They found Mrs Sherwood half naked in a remote field near Haresfield, her hands tied to a fence above her head. Both said that she was visibly suffering from shock, and that they took off their coats and tried to keep her talking so she would not lose consciousness. They had been very concerned about her.

Injuries consistent with rape: A doctor (forensic medical examiner) testified to having found a large number of injuries. She recorded that the injuries were consistent with rape but could also have been self-inflicted - a standard statement such doctors make.

Victim treated poorly during physical examination: 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.

Police fail to understand rape victim's reactions: Two women police officers reported to their seniors during the physical examination that they had concerns about Mrs Sherwood’s truthfulness, noting that she did not make eye contact and kept her head down. The doctor denied that having a male detective present might have caused distress and embarrassment.

Victim not believed because she did not fit the stereotypical rape victim profile: A female police officer who Mrs Sherwood claims to have overheard saying she was 'a sad, lonely 50-year old who couldn’t get a man and had made it all up' was spoken to by senior officers and forbidden from speaking to Mrs Sherwood but remained on the investigation team.

Key evidence ignored, lost or misinterpreted: The police failed to retrieve a stick that Mrs Sherwood claimed to have used to hit her assailant or test it for evidence, despite the stick being present in police photographs. A knife that she used to defend herself in the second rape was found and photographed but later lost. The CCTV footage cited as proof of Mrs Sherwood's guilt in the BBC article did not clearly show that it was her leaving the house when she claimed to have been abducted.

Victim given inadequate legal representation when arrested: Mrs Sherwood said her legal representative 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 a confession (to making a false allegation) under his threat that she was going to prison and her kids would be taken away. (This was later retracted.)

Victim ridiculed, called a liar and had character called into question by the prosecutor throughout the court case. He also tried to blame Mrs Sherwood for not doing enough to protect her family from the stalker, claimed she had caused the injuries herself and tied herself up.

Despite all this being highlighted by Mrs Sherwood's defence, the jury found her guilty of perverting the course of justice by a majority of ten to one. The judge needed a unanimous verdict, which was agreed on two days later.

I'm sure I don't need to describe to any of you quite how angry and sickened this case makes me. It highlights exactly why we need to keep fighting against the victim blaming and misogyny which infests the police, legal system and the general public that make up our juries. It also leads me to conclude that there is absolutely no way in hell I would ever report a rape to the police.

I have contacted Women Against Rape to ask if there's anything we can do to support Mrs Sherwood and I will report back when I hear from them.

Comments From You

Lara II // Posted 05 March 2010 at 13:35

TWO YEARS IN JAIL! Even if her allegations WERE false (I don't understand what the jury were thinking with all that evidence?), I would still think two years in jail was a bit much, surely she should just get a fine?

Gayle // Posted 05 March 2010 at 14:13

As we have seen from other articles on 'The f word', victim-blaming (especially when the victim is a woman) is endemic in society. The attitude of the police and justice system in the above case is sickening and I can understand why Laura would say that she would never report a rape to the police. About 8 years ago I was sexually assaulted at a party by the husband of a friend. After managing to fight him off I went into denial and what had happened seemed surreal. A few weeks later I spoke about what had happened to a couple of people I considered close friends and their reactions horrified me as their view was that we had all had a few drinks and maybe he misunderstood my interest (apparently for them talking to a man constitutes showing sexual interest and excuses him trying to force me into having sex). I did eventually pluck up the courage to confront the issue and his wife stood by him whilst my then boyfriend left me and my life fell apart. There was no way I could face going to the police as if the reactions of people who knew me where like that, what would people who didn't know me think. Fast-forward to a couple of years later when I was attacked again by a different male 'friend' who, when I refused his advances, threw me against a wall causing some minor injuries. I have never told anyone about the second attack as the reaction to the first completely floored me. Of course since then I have had hours of agonising about whether I should have reported the incidents but I just couldn't and, reading cases such as the one highlighted in this post just reinforce the belief that I did the right thing for me. I still feel guilt, humiliation and anger and my heart goes out to women who have had the courage to report their attacks and who have then been failed by the system. Sometimes it seems you're damned if you do and damned if you don't.

Laura // Posted 05 March 2010 at 14:30

WAR have said that Mrs Sherwood "had lots of community support and was certainly not a sad, lonely attention-seeker as she was portrayed. The judge received protests in writing from over 70 of her friends and family, saying they believe her. She is a loving caring mum of 3, has a partner and has a really busy life". They are discussing their next move and will get in touch if there's anything we can do.

rox // Posted 05 March 2010 at 14:49

Oh my god! I hope something can be done!!!!

aimee // Posted 05 March 2010 at 15:13

WHAT THE FUCK!?

Sorry.... but... what the fuck?

Okay what can we do about this because this is OBSCENE... i'm so furious right now.

Gayle: Firstly i'm really not sure you need friends like that who make you feel guilty about being attacked. Secondly, I don't think you need to feel guilty and ashamed, I think you're incredibly brave and strong for being so eloquent and open about your experiences for other women to share and read. Thirdly, it is your own decision, of course, but I would advise reporting your attacker, purely because what he did was wrong and a crime. But if you don't feel that you can, that's okay too. x

JenniferRuth // Posted 05 March 2010 at 15:39

This is just so horrible. I really hope there is something WAR say we can do to show our support to Mrs Sherwood.

gadgetgal // Posted 05 March 2010 at 16:00

I second what aimee said, Gayle - you're better than the people who turned their backs on you when you needed them, without a shadow of a doubt!

I've just been reading this whole post with bile welling up in my mouth - I'll look out on F-Word in case they contact you with any help we can give.

Maggie // Posted 05 March 2010 at 16:12

This is horrifying. It's good to see a more detailed report of this horrendous case here and what were the jury thinking? The message can't surely be that only good and younger looking women get raped? I'm so angry too.

I hope WAR get Mrs Sherwood out of jail soon.

Laura // Posted 05 March 2010 at 16:21

In the meantime, it might be worth sending the BBC a comment or complaint about their lazy journalism here.

Claire // Posted 05 March 2010 at 17:39

I complained to the BBC recently about why they wrote "raped" in inverted commas in a story - you know the "usual" woman "raped" after night out at night club story. I asked them why it was in inverted commas. The answer was terrible. They said until it came to trial no one would know whether it was the woman or the man who was lying so "rape" had to be in inverted commas. The very next day there was a case of rape of a schoolgirl in Bolton and the day after that another rape and murder report. Neither of these were in inverted commas. So I wrote back again and asked them why they were inconsistent. If someone is murdered and there is evidence of rape, no one puts the word rape in inverted commas. But if it's question of "woman got drunk, had a shag and then thought better of it" implication story then they put the word "rape" in inverted commas. So to the 95% of women who report rape, and whose rapes don't lead to conviction, in the eyes of this BBC reporter, we were all clearly lying. If you are knocked down by a car and no one can find the person who drove the car, then you haven't really been knocked down. If you are burgled, but no one can find the burglar, then you haven't really been burgled. What nonsense from the BBC. Women's Aid and End Violence Against Women said that they felt they'd made some progress recently with the BBC, but the journalist I dealt with was clearly a neanderthal throw back. If a woman says she has been raped, then she has been raped. If her rapist can't be convicted, that doesn't lessen the crime, but sometimes even worstens the recovery.
I would like to post every rape story from the BBC on the F-word and have us communally complain

Melanie // Posted 06 March 2010 at 10:09

I am appalled and outraged by this.

It's also depressing that WAR felt they had to stress that "She is a loving caring mum of 3, has a partner and has a really busy life", as if, had she been single, childless and lonely, there may have been some substance in the prosecution claim that women like that don't get raped and she was obviously an unstable fantasist making it up.

Laura // Posted 06 March 2010 at 13:28

@ Melanie, WAR's comment was in response to accusations from the police and prosecution that Mrs Sherwood was bored and lonely and so made up the rape allegations for attention.

Melanie // Posted 06 March 2010 at 14:14

@Laura,

Sorry, I didn't express myself clearly .

I'm not criticising WAR, who've been fantastic in fighting this case. I know they had to contest the police's and prosecution's lies/inaccuracies and they were right to point out that the "bored and lonely" allegations were, in this woman's case, blatantly untrue.

I'm sure they would have supported her, even if she had been the isolated, friendless, unstable type she had been depicted.

What frightens me is that, if women who are not "bored and lonely" can be characterised as such and disbelieved on those grounds by the authorities, what hope do women who genuinely are lonely oddballs (who, as we all know, are no more immune from rape than any other women and possibly even less equipped than other women to cope with the trauma) have of being believed if they are raped?

makomk // Posted 06 March 2010 at 19:34

Claire: if the alleged rapist is a specific, identifiable person they have to be a lot more careful about what they say than if the rapist is unknown, for legal reasons. You'll notice that the BBC site and newspapers make careful use of inverted commas when talking about other serious crimes too, especially if the suspects are on trial at the time.

They avoid saying explicitly that the suspect did commit the crime in question until after he or she's convicted. In the case of date rape and similar, where the defense provided is generally that it wasn't rape because the victim consented, that does mean quotation marks around "raped" until it's proved in court.

If they omitted the quotation marks and the alleged rapist was found innocent, they'd potentially be on the receiving end of a successful libel lawsuit, and I suspect that'd be the least of their legal worries. Breach of the sub judice laws can, IIRC, mean a jail sentence for the journalist responsible. It can also lead to the trial in question being abandoned in particularly serious cases.

Amy // Posted 06 March 2010 at 19:37

That is attrocious. Is there anything we can do to appeal for Mrs Sherwood?

I was thinking about those cases were the woman is alleged to have lied earlier, but I actually believe that many of those women accused of lying about rape may very well have been telling the truth; we have a low enough conviction rate for rape to bear out the argument that just because a man may be judged innocent by a court trial, doesn't mean that he actually is.

I just can't believe that in this particular case there was any belief that she made it up!!!

sianmarie // Posted 07 March 2010 at 17:27

that's just so awful. please keep us informed if we can do anything to support WAR.

Butterflywings // Posted 07 March 2010 at 20:18

I have to agree with Melanie. OK yes I can see why WAR felt the need to defend her like that, but ultimately I think it's just perpetuating notions that women do make up rape stories. The defence of '*this* women wouldn't do that' implies that *some* would. The only effective defence is that women do not make up rape allegations (well, OK, a minority do).
The defence that she had a prtner and is a mother, with a busy life, just shores up notions that women may make up rape allegations to get attention. Not to mention that single, childless women get vilified as sad, pathetic, and lonely - which in itself is a feminist issue. As if the only way a woman can have a fulfilling life is to have a partner and kids. Actually many single and childless people have plenty to keep them busy - careers, interests, community work, friends, family etc. The idea that a woman needs a man is a tenet of patriarchy.
I don't think the tiny proportion of women who do make false rape allegations do it to get attention, because they are bored and lonely...they have *far* bigger psychological problems than being a bit lonely.
So yeah, I'm sure WAR meant well but I think they did say the wrong thing there.

Katherine // Posted 07 March 2010 at 20:47

Does anyone remember the recent, high profile case of the man who was progressively poisoning his wife by putting mercury in her tea? Upon discovery he claimed that he wasn't trying to murder her but 'only' to weaken her so that she would remain dependent on him and he could look after her. As I recall, the judge/jury believed him and he received no prison time, despite the fact that he had severely sickened his wife (who believed that his intent was indeed to kill her). The difference in treatment between *admitted* male criminals and women suspected of making false rape claims (without even targeting a particular individual, the usual scenario the Daily Mail and the like so lovingly dwell upon as an example of the inherent viciousness and duplicity of women) is staggering.

voicegti // Posted 07 March 2010 at 22:16

Unfortunately this case is one of very many. This happens so often in court in my county alone that I cannot imagine the figures for the whole country.
CPS are partly to blame, the corrupt male judges another, and then finally the way society is. The victims of rape are not victims in the eyes of the Police unless they are young, pretty, innocent females. If you have any past at all, which most of us do, you can't possibly be an innocent victim.

Rape victims are scrutinised for their pasts and profiled, just like criminals. I'm pretty sure burglary victims aren't profiled! So why the hell are rape victims. This is shocking. I think an investigative journo needs to look in to Police investigations of rape and the way the victims are judged. If someone could take that on, I know they'd be opening a can of worms, but a can of worms that HAS to be opened and ripped apart.
Do prostitutes deserved to be raped? The courts, Judges, Police and CPS would say yes. I'm certain of that.

I can only hope things change dramatically. This is one example, there are too many to count.

Kathmandu // Posted 08 March 2010 at 03:05

How awful. Great work by you and Women Against Rape in articulating and tracking these miscarriages of the 'investigation'.

One clarification request: In point seven, Victim given inadequate legal representation when arrested, what was it that was later retracted?

Laura // Posted 08 March 2010 at 09:47

@ Melanie - Thanks for the clarification, I completely agree.

Laura // Posted 08 March 2010 at 09:51

@ Kathmandu - Mrs Sherwood originally signed a confession to making up one of the rape allegations (under pressure from her legal representative). The confession was later retracted.

Graham // Posted 08 March 2010 at 13:15

Just read your article from the 5th March 2010. Just like to inform you, that so far, just a part of the story has been told. The harassment and abuse that this guy has caused to Gail Sherwood is beyond belief and no right minded person would be able to understand it. I know because for the past two years I have also lived it with her. It's something that you would have had to have lived with to be able to believe it.
Graham Kimber (her partner)

Kristin // Posted 08 March 2010 at 13:33

Katherine, yes. The difference applied to male criminals who admit what they did and women suspected of making false rape claims is indeed staggering. I was shocked that that man got no prison time. Even if he didn't intend to kill his wife (which is debatable, to say the least! especially given what she believes) if someone puts mercury in another person's tea they must surely know that what they're doing could kill the person, even if they don't intend that to be the result. They're prepared to play roulette with someone's health and life. And even IF he was telling the truth about 'only' (!) wanting her to become weak so that he could look after her, doesn't such dangerous behaviour at the very least warrant sectioning and the close attention of a battery of psychiatrists?! But apparently not, he just walks free. And why did what his wife said count for absolutely nothing?
I am 100% certain that if it was the wife who had been adding mercury to the husband's tea, she would be in jail right now staring down twenty years.

Laura // Posted 08 March 2010 at 13:51

Hi Graham,

Thank you for your comment. I'm so sorry that Gail has been so completely let down by the justice system on top of all she's suffered at the hands of that man. My heart goes out to her, yourself and her children.

Christina West // Posted 31 March 2010 at 13:52

Petition here;

http://www.petitiononline.com/WAR2010/petition.html

klare edwards // Posted 02 June 2010 at 16:25

i had the same thing happen to me .. i WAS raped and i knew who my attacker was but he scared me so much that i lied about the real offender until it was to late. even after listening to my circumstances and even after my horrific ordeal. my apologies to the wrongly accused victim. the money i saved to pay him private compensation and my guilty plea i too got 2 years for perverting the course of justice.. i will never deny that i did something wrong because i did lie about someone and i took my punishment in the only way possible but along the way everyone completely ignored that i was also a victim of rape. im always going to be sorry and im always going to remember my prsion sentence as the worst time of my life but is it right for people to still judge me and to still bully me for a sentence i served 5 years ago.

Jenny Betteridge // Posted 04 June 2010 at 15:59

Hi Klare

Please get in touch with Women Against Rape. We have met and supported other women with similar circumstances and would really like to talk to you. Our email address is war@womenagainstrape.net

Take care
Jenny

Louise // Posted 18 October 2010 at 13:37

I was very controlled by my partner the word love is blind comes to mind,i had told my partner i wanted to end the relationship and he got very angry with me and raped me, eventually i did flee.. and tried to come to terms with it all on my own as i was to embarrassed to tell anyone straight away i didnt cope to well and ended up taking drugs to block it all out which left me totally unable to cope and out of control i made the mistake of later returning home attacking him for what he had done to me...i plucked up the courage eventually and went to a friend who was in the police force after being able to dicuss this personal matter i decided to report it to the police, the humiliation was hard to come to terms with the thought of not being believed was even greater..my case was dropped by the cps they said that because i had been violent to my attacker and because i had admitted i still had feelings for him even though he treated me terrible went against me...i was in a no win situation because the thought of him getting away with it was hard to deal with and the thought of it going to court would have been just as destressing ...to many relationship rapes are being dropped so unless you have been raped by a complete stranger it is not taken seriously enough i can completely understand why women do not want to report rape i have very little faith in the cps. i think the cps should spend quality time with the victims who cannot cope after being raped the anxiety it brings the sleepless nights the nightmares !! feel outraged when i hear these men are walking free ..the message it gives out is not a good one !!!

great changes are needed it seems like the courts are more concerned about wrongly convicting than they are about putting these" ANIMALS " behind bars !!

Laura // Posted 18 October 2010 at 18:12

Hi Louise,

I'm really sorry you were treated so badly by CPS on top of the abuse at the hands of your ex. I hope you have been able ot move on and heal since then.

louise // Posted 19 October 2010 at 09:29

FREE MRS SHERWOOD !! dont you think she has suffered enough already !! my heart goes out to her and her family...police ,cps just do a job are they really concerned about the actual long term damage it causes to women who experience rape...maybe if it happened to someone close to them it would be dealt with in a bit more dignified manner.... instead of ticking a few boxes that allows the rapist to walk free !!!

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