Miss M was an intern for an English police force working with victims of domestic violence when she realised she needed to continue fighting over what happened to her.
It was 2016. A few months earlier, a high court jury near Edinburgh had cleared Stephen Coxen of raping her while she was too drunk to realise or resist after a freshers’ week party at St Andrews University. If the women she was working with had the resolve to report violence and rape, Miss M reasoned, she had to show the same courage.
“I had always wanted to join the police but if I worked with people brave and strong enough to come forward, I had to be brave enough myself and take this forward. Something had happened; it was not right and I needed to speak up about it,” she said.
Backed by lawyers with the Scottish Women’s Rights Centre and Rape Crisis Scotland, Miss M took the rare step of launching a private civil action against Coxen. For the first time in Scotland since 1926, someone cleared of rape in a criminal trial was being sued for damages.
A civil case requires a lower standard of proof than in a criminal case, with a judge sitting without a jury making a decision on the balance of probabilities.
Over two weeks in June this year in Edinburgh sheriff court, Miss M again relived the trauma of the night of 13-14 September 2013 in St Andrews when, like tens of thousands of students across the UK, she had been celebrating the start of the academic year.
She heard toxicologists tot up and debate her alcohol consumption: the cider, rosé wine, champagne and vodka. Psychologists discussed her post-traumatic stress disorder, her blackouts, the sleepless nights and bouts of depression which followed that night. The court heard expert testimony about the wound to her mouth caused when Coxen forced her to have oral sex; the violence of the rape, she said, left blood stains across the bed and a nearby wall.
Coxen again took the stand, to deny raping her. He insisted she had willingly walked home; she had willingly kissed him at the nightclub. Yet despite the medical evidence, he denied any oral rape. He gave a hazy explanation of how her mobile phone came into his possession, which was disputed by other witnesses. His account of being let into Miss M’s home by a flatmate was also flatly contradicted.
Having already given her account of that night to the police, a court, medical experts and lawyers, Miss M was required to give it again. In a civil action, both the litigant and the respondent can watch each other testify.
Miss M had steeled herself for her own testimony but her resolve broke when Coxen recounted how he had recoiled in revulsion at seeing her bleeding. She fled the court, her pain audible from the corridor outside.
In the event, Coxen was simply not believed. Sheriff Robert Weir QC made clear he believed Miss M’s account: her lawyer, Simon di Rollo, “invited me to conclude that the evidence for the pursuer was compelling and persuasive. I agree with that characterisation of the evidence.”
When her decision to pursue Coxen for damages was first reported earlier this year, she recalls reading comments online describing her as a “gold-digging whore”. She has already funded part of the case herself and is highly unlikely to see any of the £80,000 damages agreed by the court: if Coxen can ever afford to pay, the money will be taken back by the Scottish Legal Aid Board to cover the costs of her case before anything left goes to her.
Miss M believes large parts of her case were never properly heard at the criminal trial, which she says was rushed through by the Scottish prosecution service without proper preparation. In her civil action, she had control over what happened, and had the time to prepare properly. The witness evidence during the hearing also helped her remember, and make sense of, that night.
“The civil process has allowed me to understand what happened for parts of that evening; I didn’t know everything that had happened. It’s only going through the civil process that I have had the answers and provided me the opportunity to have proper help now,” she said.
Miss M has since had a job offer from that police force in England. She hopes to start her training soon.
- Rape and sexual assault
- Share on Facebook
- Share on Twitter
- Share via Email
- Share on LinkedIn
- Share on Pinterest
- Share on Google+
- Share on WhatsApp
- Share on Messenger
- Reuse this content