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Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Failings revealed in case of Oxford student whose rape trial was dropped

A February 2018 letter to the trial judge, obtained via a Freedom of Information request, revealed multiple failings in the investigation into Oliver Mears

An Oxford student who faced allegations of rape spent two years on bail because police were preoccupied with reports concerning allegations against Jimmy Savile, a new report has revealed.

Oliver Mears, 19, a chemistry undergraduate at St. Hugh’s College, was to face a jury in January. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) dropped the case just days before the trial was due to begin on the grounds there was insufficient evidence.

One explanatory letter passed to the trial judge said that Surrey Police had not passed an evidence file to the CPS until May 2017. This was almost two years after the alleged rape took place, at a house party in the summer of 2015.

Mears, of Horley in Surrey, was not charged until June 2017.

The letter, written by a senior crown prosecutor to trial judge Jonathan Black at Guildford Crown Court, read: “Surrey Police have accepted that the investigation was protracted and subject to various delays.

“The delay in the investigation was as a result of the rapid rise in complaints being made to the Surrey Police force post Savile.”

This report to the court, delivered in February, also noted: “I fully accept that this case was not properly handled from the beginning and acknowledge the distress and impact that the proceedings and the late decision not to proceed have had on both the defendant and the complainant which cannot be underestimated.”

The letter, obtained via a Freedom of Information (FOI) request by Get Surrey, showed that despite the alleged victim writing a diary, only one of her pages was shared with defence lawyers. When the full copy was provided on 15th January it “served to weaken the case further”.

The letter also said: “Having analysed the case and the material upon which the decision to charge was made, I am of the opinion that this case was charged too early.

“It was apparent from the initial material supplied by Surrey Police that Facebook messaging and other communications over social media had relevance to the case.

“These had been exhibited within the statements of the witnesses and so were clearly available.”

The letter admitted that the prosecutor in charge of authorising the charges against Mears should have looked into potentially relevant Facebook messages further.

The same report showed that when the case was reviewed on 5th January 2018, the reviewing lawyers concluded there was “insufficient evidence” to proceed.

The crown prosecutor said: “I took the view that the case should not have been charged due to there being insufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction.

“The information contained in the diary and the confirmation that Surrey Police had failed to seize the digital devices of the complainant and the resultant impact that had on the integrity of the police investigation only served to confirm this view.”

After the case collapsed, judge Jonathan Black had demanded a detailed explanation as to failings in the investigation.

Mears voluntarily suspended his studies. St. Hugh’s said he would be welcomed back.

A spokesperson for the college said: “It was the student’s choice to suspend his studies. Students who suspend their studies can make the choice whether to come back or not.”

This article has been updated to remove phrasing that we considered inappropriate. We apologise for any distress caused by the original reporting, and will be updating our internal style guide with advice from sexual assault campaigns to prevent similar problems arising in future.

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