One of the things I promised in “Rape – Part 1” was a compilation of case histories of false accusations. I’m working on it, though it’s doing unfortunate things to my psyche. It’s proving to be a bigger task than I anticipated – there’s so darned many cases. So, I’m breaking off from that endeavour for a while to bring you just one case. It’s quite recent, the full facts emerged only in 2017, though it’s origin goes back to 2014.
Many, many times in compiling my list of false rape accusation cases I have thought “my God, that was surely the worst yet”. Here’s one of those. Whilst we can all enjoy getting mightily indignant about malicious false accusers, there are times when the alleged victim does need protecting – and I don’t mean from the alleged rapist. I mean from the police and the CPS – and from false “friends”. Can I be prosecuted for suggesting that the actions of the police and the CPS drove this young woman to kill herself?
Hannah Stubbs, 22, then a student at university, accused Elgan Varney, 33, of rape in 2014. After making the allegation she became depressed and ultimately killed herself in August 2015. There had been no charge brought against Mr Varney up until that time, and he was only charged with rape in April 2016. Mr Varney was “removed from his attempts at education”, to quote his defence counsel. In March 2017 the CPS announced they were dropping the prosecution because there was no realistic prospect of gaining a conviction. The stock phrase used in these situations is “we have no evidence to present”. In this case it rather belied the fact that there was, and always had been, a mountain of evidence – all of it exculpatory.
After the announcement Mr Varney said, “The news of Hannah’s death made me physically sick. I cared about her. It was shocking and difficult to process. I was confused, sad and angry all at the same time. I will sadly never know the exact reasons for Hannah’s actions. My anger and frustration is directed at the police and the CPS who have had overwhelming evidence from the outset that no crime was committed.” He saw the trial as the only chance to clear his name. He had hoped to expose serious flaws, not just in his own case, but in the wider legal system – failings that let down both parties, himself and the vulnerable young woman who accused him and ended up dead.
Why had the CPS not charged Mr Varney by August 2015, for an allegation relating to 2014 when both parties had been interviewed by the police in March 2015? One has to assume it was because they knew there was no realistic prospect of conviction from the start. This is consistent with, though not the same as, Mr Varney’s claim that they had “overwhelming evidence from the outset that no crime was committed”. So why did the CPS raise the charge in April 2016, eight months after the young woman’s suicide? What role exactly did the police and the CPS play in her suicide? Did she perhaps come under pressure to continue with her accusation after having doubts herself? Did the CPS decide to charge Mr Varney as a means of deflecting attention from their own culpability?
Let’s take a closer look. And do note that during the hearing the prosecutor said the decision not to continue the prosecution had been taken at the “highest level” of the CPS. Why?
The defending QC described the aborted prosecution as “terribly disturbing and distressing”. He too had been looking forward to the facts of the case coming out at trial. It was, he said, “perhaps an unrivalled case study in how a false allegation can come about”. Indeed, and that, I suggest, is precisely why the CPS played their cards so as to prevent the details emerging.
You see, there was a mountain of evidence in Mr Varney’s favour – including thousands of social media messages suggesting there was no assault, information indicating his accuser had serious mental health issues, and even evidence from her computer suggesting the allegations had not only been false but that she had considered withdrawing them.
It was after Mr Varney made it clear he did not want his relationship with Hannah to continue that the complaints were made. And here the story becomes complicated. The full backstory can be read here, from which I have extracted the following (the account opens after Hannah had had a fall at the gym and been taken to hospital),
“Other students joined them at the hospital and one, James (not his real name), drove everyone home after Hannah was given the all-clear at 3am. It was in the course of that evening that Hannah made an allegation of assault, telling James that Elgan had touched her inappropriately. James messaged his friend Michelle (not her real name), who had written in a blog about being raped the previous year.
A few days later Michelle spoke to Hannah. The day after that, Elgan received a disturbing Facebook message. ‘Elgan, due to what happened last week when I came over to yours I have decided that I don’t want any contact with you,’ wrote Hannah. ‘I don’t feel like you respected me or how I feel. I had been clear with you on the phone that I didn’t want things to happen again, and yet you still went ahead.’
Had Hannah written this entirely by herself? Not according to their friend Steven, who had been present when the message was sent, as was Michelle. Indeed, in his witness statement, he talks about the message being ‘formulated by Michelle’, saying ‘it seemed that Hannah had little input into this’. Elsewhere in the statement he says: ‘I was shocked by this. I recall that Michelle soon became heavily involved with Hannah and seemed to have a lot of influence over her. I fully believe that [Hannah] was not raped or sexually abused by Elgan,’ he concludes.
He was not the only one to think that way. Numerous students were prepared to go to court to speak on Elgan’s behalf.
The role of Michelle was significant. She had been with Hannah when she contacted the university authorities with her allegations and it was Michelle who rang the police on Hannah’s behalf.
Hannah eventually accused Elgan of raping her on unspecified dates, once in the autumn of 2014 and again in February 2015. There was no forensic evidence of rape. The only evidence against Elgan was in a statement made by Hannah to the police six months before her death, and even this was contradictory and bore no relationship to the allegations she originally confided to university friends.
It is also undermined by more than 10,000 Facebook and WhatsApp messages between them that have now been transcribed and analysed. Seen by The Mail on Sunday, they showed the pair continued to have an amicable relationship after the alleged rapes.
The following evening the pair exchanged a stream of messages, with no mention of a mild disagreement let alone sexual assault. Hannah implored Elgan to come over, clearly struggling with his decision to end their relationship. His replies were polite and the exchange ended on good terms. ‘Have a good match tomorrow [smiley face],’ she said.”
Mr Varney’s solicitor was to observe, “If the police had looked at the correspondence they could have arrived at no other conclusion than Hannah wasn’t telling the truth”.
It also turns out that Hannah had been questioned about previous allegations of rape she had made against another man.
Two weeks before her death, Hannah twice downloaded CPS guidance on perverting the course of justice.
Ye Gods, one despairs.
Another of Mr Varney’s solicitors, Anna O’Mara, said: ‘I had never before seen a person charged with an offence when there existed such strong evidence pointing to his innocence.’ She was further shocked by the manner in which the police conducted their interview of Hannah, when this evidence later emerged. She described it thus: “Hanna initially was reluctant to commit herself to making an allegation against Elgan. This eventually led to the officer pointing out to her what the police would need to prove a case. It was only after Hannah had received prompts from the officer that she hesitantly developed a disjointed allegation against Elgan”.
It would appear that the combined actions of her ‘friend’, “Michelle”, together with subtle police pressure, precipitated an allegation which Hannah later regretted – but felt trapped and unable to retract. Was it this, on top of a history of mental illness and suicidal thoughts, that caused her suicide? We will never know for sure, but it seems likely that the existing criminal investigation procedures were hardly Hannah’s friend – let alone Mr Varney’s.
Where are the wise grandmothers and grandfathers of yesterday who could, calmly but firmly, have got to the truth of these allegations without the heavy handed involvement of Mr Plod and Ms feminist-pseudo-friend? We have banished them. They are no longer required in this brave new world. The Authorities will deal with it.