‘Why was Cambridge grad put on trial?’
Jess McCabe // 10 March 2008
In the annuals of sexist reporting of trials for rape and sexual assault, this piece by the Daily Mail has got to be one of the worst I’ve read in recent history.
Now, the young man in question – 23 year old “Cambridge graduate” Jack Gillett – has been found innocent by a jury of his peers, so let’s get that out the way at the start. We are looking at the way the case was covered and the comments of the judge in the case.
First off, the headline:
Why was Cambridge graduate ever put on trial for sex assault after drunken night of passion?
This is a news report, not a comment. How deeply offensive and irresponsible for a national newspaper to run a headline like this, in a climate where it is nearly impossible to convict anyone of rape, where we know that women are put off reporting sexual attacks and where we know that men can carry out assault with barely any thought of the consequences. Shame on the Daily Mail right from the start.
Then we get to the way that Gillett has been portrayed. Of course, victims of sexual assault and rape have a right to anonymity, so the press cannot report much about the woman in this case. However, we can surmise from the facts reported that she is also a student, probably at Cambridge. Now, the story mentions the fact that Gillett goes to this respected institution four times. The story also describes his “English teacher” father and “respected artist” mother. What I mean is that the story plays up the man’s respectability for all it’s worth – the implication being “it’s an outrage that this ever get to court – he’s a nice boy who’s studying at Oxbridge!”
But we can also suggest that the victim is from just as ‘respectable’ a background. I’m not suggesting, as Gillett’s mother(!) did, that she should not be anonymous. I’m suggesting that the newspaper capitalised on this to push its own dangerous agenda of portraying the case as an expensive waste of time, and rubbishing the woman who gave evidence.
But after a three-day trial this week, a jury took just two and a half hours to throw out the £50,000 case.
What is especially hideous here is the repeated implication that the case should never have got to court – blaming the woman involved for having the audacity to tell her story.
Now we get to the judge’s summing up before the jury.
In his summing up, before the jury of eight women and four men retired to consider their verdict, Judge Hawkesworth said: “This is a story as old as time itself. Boy meets girl. Then the kissing starts.
“There are two irreconcilable accounts and that is all you have to decide.
“Be cautious when taking into account discrepancies in motive. False accusations can be made in revenge. Sometimes they’re made for no reason at all. People’s fantasies can be boundless.”
Yeah, he really said that!
Let’s get to the only bit of the story which related what happened, and you can judge yourself whether it is totally unreasonable for this to end up in court:
They began kissing but she said Mr Gillett, who admitted having several pints earlier that evening, became increasingly aggressive and pulled off her clothes.
“I was telling him to stop over and over again. He was pressing down on me quite hard, simulating the sex act,” she said.
She claimed he had forced his hand into her pants when he “suddenly seemed to hear me” and agreed to stop.
Mr Gillett insisted it was only at this stage that she asked him to stop, which he said was “absolutely fine” and he did.