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Feminism: Sex & gender discussions

Message about Gail Sherwood from Women Against Rape

9 replies

JennyBet · 05/04/2010 21:50

On 4th March 2010, Gail Sherwood, a 52-year-old mother of three, was sentenced to two years in prison for falsely claiming she had been harassed and raped by an unknown stranger. Women Against Rape has been supporting Gail for over 18 months and throughout her six-week trial. We are convinced that she is innocent. So are over 70 of her friends and family who wrote to the judge: ?We have always found Gail to be kind, intelligent, well-balanced, and above all honest... [She] had no reason to jeopardise her family life with her daughters, her partner, her dogs and her livelihood by making up something that did not happen...?

For more information visit our website (www.womenagainstrape.bet) and read the excellent article published in the Guardian (www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/mar/09/gail-sherwood-jailed-campaigners).

Gail is not the only mother we have met who has been accused of lying and prosecuted, so we are calling for the police to concentrate on prosecuting rapists rather than women and girls who report rape. Prosecuting women like Gail is putting rape survivors off reporting and allowing rapists to carry on raping. Women in Gloucestershire have also expressed concern about their safety knowing Gail?s rapist was never caught.

Since being in prison, Gail has had a stroke and is recovering slowly. The separation from her family is particularly hard to bear. We have received many emails and phone calls from people offering to help. There are a number of things you can do:



  • Write to Gail. It is really important that she knows how much support she has. Please send us any letters you would like us to forward to her.


  • Contact WAR with your experiences of reporting rape to the police. Were you disbelieved or encouraged to withdraw your complaint? Were you accused of making a false allegation? Our email address is [email protected]


  • Send a donation to WAR to help with support costs such as fares to visit Gail. Please address cheques to Women Against Rape and mark on the back 'for Gail Sherwood Fighting Fund'. You can donate online securely via Just Giving .
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BelleDameSansMerci · 06/04/2010 10:04

bump

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Nancy66 · 07/04/2010 22:32

I'd be interested to know why you are 'convinced she is innocent.'

Presumably this is based on something more substantial than 'she just didn't seem the sort.'

I read the court transcripts at the time and her guit looked pretty damn obvious to me.

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EightiesChick · 09/04/2010 00:20

The jury couldn't reach a unanimous verdict originally, if I'm correct, though, so at least 2 of them had their doubts and they had seen the whole lot of evidence in court.

I also think that in any case, 2 years for a false accusation seems incredibly harsh. Can't believe that Gail Sherwood is a danger to society.

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Nancy66 · 09/04/2010 14:42

it's not about her being a danger to society - it's about her making false accusations, wasting police time and money.

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EightiesChick · 09/04/2010 20:14

Still don't think, if the accusations were false, that this was then a justified sentence or that pursuing this conviction wasn't itself a waste of police/CPS time and money. The rape conviction rate is low enough already. Personally I think Gloucestershire police should be working on that. But I have no problem with agreeing to disagree on this.

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LondonSun · 27/05/2010 16:46

Sorry it has taken such a long time to reply to this thread, but I wanted to explain why Women Against Rape do not think Gail should have been prosecuted. We have been supporting Gail for two years and were at the trial. During this time we got to know Gail and her family very well, and have never doubted her innocence.

The number of professionals who testified at Gail?s trial was striking, yet none did so in her defence. Among the friends and relatives who knew her well who testified, very few were asked what kind of person she is. Their evidence was stifled by the weight of the testimony of the ?experts?: 28 officers, doctors and a pathologist. As you know, experts sometimes get things horribly wrong ? as did paediatrician Roy Meadows in the cases of Angela Cannings and Sally Clark, and forensic psychologist Paul Britton in the case of Colin Stagg.

While we are very committed to the jury system, we are also aware that miscarriages of justice do occur, especially if evidence is not available or presented, or given its due weight. The people who spoke out for Gail, attested to the fact that the jurors were given the wrong impression of who she is. Jurors faced a difficult choice: a heavily-represented police force, on which we all depend for safety and protection, versus a woman they did not know.

There are many reasons why she should have been prosecuted:

  1. Her character. As the judge pointed out in his directions to the jury, Gail is of good character. She is a mature woman, an experienced and loving mother of three; she has been a trusted childminder for many years; she is now a responsible dog owner and breeder. In her 52 years she has never been on the wrong side of the law. She is from a supportive and lively community who all agree that she is not the kind of person she was portrayed as in court: first of all she is honest and would not have made up any of the serious crimes she reported to the police. Over seventy of her close family and friends wrote to the judge in her defence.


  1. Gail had no reason to commit the offences she was accused of, and every reason not to. No plausible explanation was offered for why a respectable and respected 52-year-old mother of three of sound mind and known habits would endanger her family, her reputation and her livelihood by lying to the police on such a monumental scale. No plausible explanation was offered for why, having ?confessed? to lying, she then decided to tell the truth and confront the wrath of an affronted police force.


  1. The effects of imprisonment on her and her children. We are extremely concerned about the effect her imprisonment is having on her and on her children. While she is clearly a strong woman who has had to raise children on her own, she is also traumatised by the stalking and the rapes. We have seen her distressed and fearful when recounting the attacks she has suffered, and terrified because she is not there for her children and her dogs. Mothers are society?s primary carers and imprisonment exacts a heavy toll not only on them but on their children. The whole family is punished when a mother is sent to jail. Children seldom recover from the deep sense of injustice and abandonment. Many respected voices are pointing out the devastating effect the imprisonment of mothers has on those children, and generally there is a call for many fewer women to be sent to prison.


  1. No man suffered from Gail reporting the attacks against her. The motorist who was arrested was never accused of rape, only of harassment, and Gail did her best to rectify her mistake over his identity at the earliest opportunity. She is not responsible for the actions the police took, and for their delay in allowing her to confirm the man was not the stalker.


  1. Gail is by no means unique in being disbelieved and accused of lying. Home Office research A Gap or a Chasm? (2005) identified ?an over- estimation of the scale of false allegations by both police and prosecutors?, feeding into a ?culture of scepticism?, with officers commonly disbelieving victims? reports and being reluctant to investigate. Some recent examples are the cases of Worboys and Reid, two serial attackers whose victims were disbelieved out of hand, and the IPCC findings in the Southwark rape case in which motor crimes were prioritised over rape. Many academic studies also confirm that rape victims are discouraged by negative police responses. Some have been pressed to sign a retraction. Others have withdrawn the charge because of fear of the court system, and of witness intimidation.


  1. Prosecutions of women who have reported rape are often the result of biased and negligent investigations, for which the woman bears no responsibility. We have 34 years? experience in dealing with rape, rape investigations and their aftermath. We have been involved in many cases where evidence was not gathered, was lost, as was the knife in Gail?s case, or was disregarded, as was the CCTV evidence of a man in Gail?s driveway.


  1. It is our view that Gail should never have been prosecuted. A few months ago, when working on another rape case, we met with a Chief Crown Prosecutor and a specialist rape prosecutor. They told us that on principle they never prosecute women for false allegations because women are often pressed to retract by rapists, relatives and others, and it would not be in the public interest to do so. Experienced workers at Sexual Assault Referral centres have told us they have the same concern and experience.


  1. Gail?s case must be appraised in the context of the appalling record of Gloucestershire Police regarding rape investigations. In 2007, it was reported nationally that Gloucestershire had the lowest conviction rate for reported rape of any county in England and Wales, at 0.86% (2004 figures). Out of 116 rapes reported (a suspiciously low number by comparison with other counties), just four ended in a rape conviction, and seven ended in convictions for other sexual offences. Although the conviction rate has now risen to 7.4%, this is only just above the very low national average of 6.5%.


  1. The prosecution of women for making false allegations prevents other rape victims from coming forward. We are extremely concerned that the imprisonment of women accused of making false allegations of rape, which features prominently in the press, is discouraging rape victims from reporting for fear of being prosecuted themselves. Women are already telling us of their fears when considering whether to report rape, and whether to proceed to trial. Survivors in our network do not feel imprisoning women is in their interest and are saying loudly ?Not in my name?. Only rapists and other violent men benefit from women not coming forward. Already most rapists who are convicted feel unlucky rather than guilty. To see their victim imprisoned while they walk free, signals that rape continues to rule OK.


10. Imprisoning rape victims convicted of false allegations flies in the face of the police and Crown Prosecution Service efforts to improve the 6.5% conviction rape for reported rape. We have met with high ranking officers in charge of restructuring the Sapphire specialist rape units, and with Keir Starmer, the Director of Public Prosecutions, as well as some chief prosecutors. They all agreed that there had been a lack of commitment in investigating and prosecuting rapists and that victims were often disbelieved. Keir Starmer issued instructions to all prosecutors quoting our concerns and stated his commitment to prioritising the arrest and conviction of rapists. Yet there seems to be a trend to discredit rape victims by pressuring them to withdraw their complaint, or even accusing them of lying.

The risk of prosecution and imprisonment, and the automatic loss of anonymity faced by victims who report rape but are disbelieved and prosecuted, is undermining every protection women have succeeded in establishing after decades of campaigning for the violent crime of rape to be taken seriously.

11. We are supporting other women facing similar injustices. One rape victim who attended Gail?s trial was reported to police by her violent ex-partner and put on trial for harassing him. She was acquitted because the man was found to be lying. But the police had believed his word without even verifying his allegations and had noted in their internal reports that they suspected her of making a false allegation. This man has not yet been prosecuted for rape, for making a false allegation, for wasting police time, or for attempting to pervert the course of justice.

12. Finally, we firmly believe that there is a stalker/rapist out there and that he is a threat to Gail and to other women. Prosecuting Gail signalled to this man that he is free to rape anyone because no one is looking for him, and because the women he attacks will be wary to come forward after what happened to Gail.

Thus this miscarriage of justice has serious consequences not only for Gail and her family but for the safety of women in the area.

Almost 600 people have now signed the petition, please do the same: www.petitiononline.com/WAR2010/petition.html

Jenny (Women Against Rape)
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Prolesworth · 27/05/2010 17:57

This reply has been deleted

Message withdrawn

LondonSun · 28/05/2010 14:16

Thanks- Gail is not the only woman we've met who's been wrongly convicted for making a false allegation. Its extremely concerning to see rape survivors being prosecuted off the back of biased and negligent investigations....

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LondonSun · 30/05/2010 17:25

We're upto 617 signatures now, but need loads more. Please take a look at the petition: www.petitiononline.com/WAR2010/petition.html

For more info, please take a look at the defence case on the Women Against Rape website:
www.womenagainstrape.net/content/defence-case

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