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The BBC's Joshua Rosenberg
"The judges were all satisfied that the jury got it wrong"
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Friday, 7 April, 2000, 16:15 GMT 17:15 UK
Rape prisoner cleared
Roy Burnett
Mr Burnett leaves the Appeal Court
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.

I am quite unable to argue that this conviction is safe

Prosecutor Jeremy Donne
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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