Roy Burnett

Fifteen years

Guardian Unlimited
7 April 2000
Man freed after
wrongful rape conviction

An innocent man is enjoying his first taste of freedom in 15 years after being cleared by the Court of Appeal of a brutal rape it said "almost certainly never happened".

Roy Burnett, 56, a gardener from Bromley, Kent, was jailed for life at the Old Bailey in 1986 after a jury accepted evidence from a 20-year-old student nurse that she had been raped and seriously assaulted.

Mr Burnett consistently refused to admit guilt and had all his applications for parole turned down, but had no grounds for an appeal until 1998 when the same woman made a false complaint of rape to Devon and Cornwall Police. She could now face criminal charges.

A Scotland Yard spokeswoman said: "We are awaiting advice from the Director of Public Prosecutions as to whether charges will be laid or not."

Appeal judge Lord Justice Judge (sic), sitting in London with Mr Justice Wright and Mrs Justice Rafferty, said: "If nothing else, this case provides a salutary reminder that an allegation of rape is not always true and that the man against whom it is made is not necessarily guilty.

"It should serve to ensure that proper safeguards against the wrongful conviction of innocent individuals are preserved. If so, then, although of no comfort whatever to Mr Burnett, something positive will have been salvaged from this disaster."

The case was reopened by the Metropolitan Police in light of the false 1998 allegation, in which she gave inconsistent accounts of being attacked by two men in a car. With her credibility seriously damaged, the Crown did not seek to uphold Mr Burnett's conviction at the appeal.

She alleged that he had followed her home, dragged her into woodland and threatened her with a knife before raping her. She declined to give evidence in the appeal. Her current boyfriend, with whom she has just had a child, described her as "attention seeking".

Fresh expert evidence of scratch marks on her body, shown in photographs taken of her at the time of the Burnett allegation, were found to be "typical of self-inflicted injury".

He left the court by a rear exit and was driven away without comment. His solicitor Deborah Harman said: "He is very happy that at last the truth has been made public that he did not commit these terrible crimes."


BBC News
7 April 1999

A man who spent almost 15 years in prison for the violent rape of a student nurse has been freed after his conviction was dismissed by the Court of Appeal.

Roy Burnett, 56, was cleared after it was ruled that the crime "almost certainly never happened at all".

Earlier, the Crown Prosecution Service told the Court of Appeal that it could no longer support the conviction.

Mr Burnett was given a life sentence at the Old Bailey in 1986 for what was described as the brutal rape of a student nurse in 1985.

Freedom campaign

He launched a campaign to challenge the conviction after the same woman made a false complaint of rape to Devon police.

Jeremy Donne, for the prosecution, told three senior appeal judges: "In the judgment of the Crown, it is impossible to exclude the possibility on the evidence that this court has received that the complainant (alleged rape victim) may at least have exaggerated, and at worst made a false complaint.

"That being so, I am quite unable to argue that this conviction is safe."

Mr Burnett, now 56, a gardener from Bromley, Kent, was found guilty in July 1986 of raping the 20-year-old student nurse.

She claimed he had followed her home from a bus, dragged her into woodland and threatened her with a knife before carrying out the rape and another serious sexual assault.

He has always maintained his innocence, but had no grounds for appeal until the woman's false complaint in 1998. The Metropolitan Police were subsequently informed and the case was re-opened. But for the action of the police, he "might have continued to be incarcerated for many years yet", appeal judge Lord Justice Judge said.

Inconsistent accounts

The judge said a re-examination of evidence given at the Old Bailey in 1986 had revealed many inconsistencies in the woman's accounts. Scratch marks on her body, shown in photographs taken of her at the time, were, according to fresh expert evidence, "typical of self-inflicted injury". The woman could now face criminal charges.

The judge added that the absence of other injuries was "surprising to the point of incredulity". The judge added concerns about Mr Burnett's immediate future, explaining that suitable accommodation should be found "so that he may be gradually rehabilitated into the community".

After the verdict, Mr Burnett's solicitor Deborah Harman said: "He is very happy that at last the truth has been made public that he did not commit these terrible crimes. He wants to thank the police for investigating his case and the very supportive probation service.

"He was impressed by what the judge said about not assuming guilt and that people should be wary about false allegations."


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