As the debate over naming defendants accused of serious sexual offences gains publicity, RACHEL SMITH looks at the issue and speaks to one local man who was cleared of rape.
“I felt like I was having a heart attack. I couldn’t breathe.”
Those were the words of a Preston man speaking just hours after he was cleared of an horrific allegation of raping a child of just five years old.
The jury trying Damion Donnelly at Preston Crown Court took less than 45 minutes to unanimously throw out the allegation and clear him of a charge which could have seen him jailed for life.
Now Damion, 23, has spoken of his relief, the ordeal of facing trial for an accusation he says came out of nowhere, and about anonymity for those accused of horrific crimes against children.
“I was asleep when the police knocked on the door,” says Damion, of West View Terrace, Ashton.
“I was awoken by my sister. The first thing I thought was, ‘Oh God, what’s happened?’ I thought there had been an accident.”
But fears soon turned to nightmares as Damion found he was being arrested on suspicion of the historic rape of a girl aged between five and seven years old when he was just a teenager himself.
He says: “It has confused me the entire time. I just couldn’t understand where it came from.
“I had only seen the girl a few weeks before and we had left on amicable terms. Then I woke up being carted off to the police station.”
Damion is not alone in standing trial for serious allegations which, when placed before the jury, simply didn’t stand up.
In recent months, Ribble Valley MP Nigel Evans has been campaigning for anonymity to protect those accused of the most serious offences of rape after he was acquitted by a jury in the same court as Damion.
Mr Evans has called for a review of anonymity rules that allowed his seven accusers to keep their identities secret while he says he has been reduced to personal and financial ruin.
In an interview with The Mail on Sunday, shortly after he walked free from court, Mr Evans said: “It is always said that no one should get special treatment in these cases. But the fact is that people in the public limelight are getting special treatment – the wrong type.
“People in the limelight have been made victims.”
The MP said his battle to clear his name has cost him his entire £130,000 life savings, adding that he thought the Crown Prosecution Service should reimburse him.
It is a view which is gaining in popularity following the high profile acquittals of a number of celebrities, including Coronation Street actors William Roache and Michael Le Vell.
But victims’ campaigners say the identification of alleged abusers is imperative to the principles of open justice and gives victims of a vastly under-reported crime the courage to come forwards and report their abuse.
No case highlights this more than that of Jimmy Savile, whose victim tally is now understood to have risen to more than 450.
And standing on the steps of Preston Magistrates’ Court, entertainer Stuart Hall vehemently denied allegations of three counts of sexual assault to a pack of reporters and photographers. But after his protestations of innocence were aired on evening news bulletins across the country, more victims came forward.
Hall went on to admit indecently assaulting two teenager girls in the 1960s and was jailed for 15 months by the Recorder of Preston, Anthony Russell QC at the city’s Sessions House - increased to 30 months after complaints to the Attorney General the sentence was unduly lenient.
A year later his sentence was doubled after he was convicted of two further assaults.
Sarah Green, of the campaign group End Violence Against Women, says: “It is essential that we continue to allow the names of those accused of sexual offences to be known in order that other victims may also choose to come forward.”
For Damion, his two-year ordeal is over and he can continue to look for work or embark upon a new relationship without fear of having to disclose the allegations.
He says: “Since this started I have become a recluse. Given a choice I would have remained anonymous.
“The amount of emotional pain you go through - I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy.
“I have been angry and I have been scared because it was one word against the other but there were inconsistencies and the jury saw them.
“It is just a relief.”