Oxford student cleared of rape after two-year ordeal prompts police force to review all cases
A second police force is conducting an urgent review of all its rape cases after a series of blunders led to the collapse of the prosecution of an Oxford University student. A judge criticised Surrey police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), giving them 28 days to explain what had gone wrong or face ‘action’. It prompted both police and CPS to apologise for ‘mistakes’ in the investigation into a claim of rape made against Oliver Mears, 19. Mr Mears, of Horley, Surrey, had spent two years on bail accused of raping and assaulting a woman in July 2015 when he was only 17. The chemistry student, who left St Hugh’s College Oxford because of stress, was officially declared not guilty and the case against him dropped just days before the start of his trial. Surrey police’s decision to examine all current rape cases follows a review by Scotland Yard of every one of its sex crime investigations that was prompted by the collapse of two prosecutions in a week.
Surrey police admitted on Friday it had failed to examine the woman’s phone and laptop computer at the outset of its inquiry two years ago. The force only did so after a request was made by the CPS on January 4th this year. The evidence was finally passed to the CPS on Monday. The woman’s diary, which supported Mr Mears’s version of events, was also only obtained in recent days. Judge Jonathan Black ordered the head of the CPS Rape and Sexual Offences unit write to him within 28 days “with a full explanation of what went wrong” before he decides whether any action is required “at CPS or police level”. The judge said: “There have been unnecessary delays in investigating… leading to what seems to be a completely unnecessary last-minute decision in this case. “Both Oliver Mears and the complainant have had this matter hanging over their heads for two years in circumstances, had the investigation been carried out properly in the first instance, would not have led to this position.”
Jon Savell, Surrey Police’s head of public protection, said: “We accept that there were flaws in the initial investigation. It was not expedient and the investigator did not examine the victim’s digital media during the initial stages of the investigation or follow what we would consider to be a reasonable line of enquiry.” He added: “We are reviewing all our current rape cases to ensure that investigations are thorough, timely, effective and compliant with policy and guidelines. We will also work with the CPS to conduct a joint review of this case.” “We accept that we could have worked with police more effectively and that this could have brought about an earlier decision to end this case. We will continue to work with Surrey Police to review our joint handling and, as requested, will write to the judge with an explanation.” Jaswant Narwal, Chief Crown Prosecutor for CPS South-East, said: “We accept that we could have worked with police more effectively and that this could have brought about an earlier decision to end this case.” The CPS decided to offer no evidence against Mr Mears during a hearing at Guildford Crown Court on Friday. Prosecutor Sarah Lindop told the court the case was “finely balanced” from the start and that the new material “tips the balance” in favour of Mr Mears. The court heard that Mr Mears’ lawyers had been asking for the diary since October last year. Mr Mears, who was arrested weeks just weeks after celebrating his 17th birthday, decided to leave oxford as a result of the strain he was under and to concentrate on proving his innocence. The alleged incident had taken place at a large house party in his hometown. The college said he would be welcomed back. A St Hugh’s College spokesman 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.”