'Living nightmare' after rape acquittal

'Living nightmare' after rape acquittal

A Londonderry man, who was acquitted of rape, has told UTV his life has been a living nightmare ever since he was wrongly accused of the crime.

In September 2011, Gerard Doherty was accused by a colleague of raping and sexually assaulting her in a city centre hotel after a work night out.

He always denied the allegations, and last week his name was finally cleared.

A jury at Londonderry Crown Court acquitted him of all charges.

By law, victims of rape and other sexual assaults have their identities protected and their names must not appear in the media.

Now there are calls for suspects to remain anonymous too due to the stigma which remains with those accused of sex crimes, even when their innocence has been proven.

Ever since the accusations were made, Mr Doherty desperately tried to prove his innocence while being shunned by society, after he was named when legal processing began.

He said his personal details being published in the media, as a suspect, caused him and his family "a lot of stress and unwanted worry."

Although he agreed to an interview with UTV Live Tonight, he did not feel comfortable appearing on camera.

The young man is now trying to get his life back on track, but fears the stigma of being accused of sexual offences will continue to follow him.

Mr Doherty said that he is speaking out in the hope others won't have to endure a trial by public opinion before a verdict of the court is even reached.

An allegation is very easy to make - but it is very hard to defend yourself against [it]. Now, this could happen to any male.

Gerard Doherty

"The whole stigma about it, your name in the paper and your name being tarnished or put in the public domain, shouldn't happen," he said.

The Bar Council in England and Wales say the naming of a suspected sex offender is wrong, believing the accused should only be named if they are convicted.

Paul Tweed, a high profile NI media lawyer, said the problem is that the readership of the paper or the viewers of a particular broadcast channel, who hear the original allegations, don't necessarily hear the news of the acquittal.

Belfast solicitor Tony Caher said that he doesn't believe a change in the law is likely.

"From time to time interest groups do put forward the case for the bringing in anonymity for defendants. Indeed, the coalition government at Westminster had put that on their manifesto in 2010 and yet, when they came into power they back tracked and, I think, realised that it is not politically popular to introduce such a measure. "

The Nexus Institute counsels victims of sexual violence, including those who have experienced rape and sexual assault, and survivors of childhood sexual abuse.

While many of their clients might want to see suspects named and shamed from the start, Nexus believes a trial by media could distort the justice process.

Pam Hunter, of Nexus, said: "I know some of our clients would prefer a name and shame process because it is such a difficult court procedure that they have to go through to get someone acquitted.

"But we could have a whole world of being judged by media and social media that if we accuse anyone by media, before it goes through our proper legal system, then we have kangaroo courts all over the place and I don't believe that is right for our society."


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