Thursday, May 28, 2009

False rape claim ruined our lives

A follow up to our story here.

Police officers banged on Clive Bishop’s door at 4.30am and he was subjected to a humiliating body search, all because a drunk teenager falsely cried rape. Here, he and his wife, who stood by him through thick and thin, tell Barbara Davies what they went through

THERE was never a moment when Sue Bishop believed her husband Clive was capable of rape. Not when five police officers turned up on her doorstep in the middle of the night, hammered on the door and then arrested the part-time taxi driver on suspicion of rape.

Not even when they carted him off to Yeovil Police Station in Somerset and put him in a cell.

"I didn't doubt him for a minute," she said. "I just knew it wasn't in his nature."

Last week, more than two years after their nightmare began when her husband was falsely accused of rape by a drunken teenage passenger, Mr Bishop, 50, made legal history when he won the right to apply for compensation from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority.
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Kirsty Palmer, the mother- of-two who made up the rape allegation, was given a 10-month prison sentence. But, as the Bishops' account of the past two years makes clear, the emotional and mental legacy of what happened in the hours and days after his wrongful arrest runs as deep as any physical scar.

"It's taken over our lives," said 48-year-old Mrs Bishop, who works as a carer. Mr Bishop, who lost his taxi business as a result of the rape allegation, said that Palmer's actions amounted to an act of violence against him.

"I feel as if I've been raped of my dignity and my self-confidence. That night, my choices in life were taken away from me and I've been struggling ever since. I've had to fight for everything."

Looking back on the events of the past two years, the couple from Walton in Somerset still find it hard to believe how their lives were so suddenly turned upside down.

It happened, quite literally, overnight when they were woken at 4.30am on February 25, 2007 by someone banging on the door of their three-bedroom semi-detached home.

Mr Bishop, who went downstairs to open the door, said: "I thought it was bad news and that something had happened to one of the young adults we'd been looking after, or to my son or daughter.

"Then I noticed one of the policemen was wearing blue surgical gloves. When he said he was arresting me on suspicion of rape, I said 'That's absolute rubbish'. I was totally shocked and stunned."

Placed in a police cell for several hours, he was photographed and fingerprinted before undergoing a series of humiliating medical examinations.

In the early morning, a doctor swabbed his mouth, his penis and the backs and palms of his hands. He was asked to provide a sample of spit, scrapings and clippings from each fingernail, as well as hair samples from his head and groin.

Later that afternoon, the police finally began questioning him and it quickly became clear that there was no case against him. The rape allegation had been made by 17- year-old Kirsty Palmer, a passenger he had picked up in his taxi the previous night.

"She'd said she'd been taken to a remote lane and raped by a man who was black, Asian or possibly heavily tanned – which, as a white man without a tan, clearly wasn't me. The duty solicitor nearly fell off his chair. He couldn't comprehend why I was there."

But Mr Bishop remembered Kirsty Palmer clearly. He'd begun work at 7pm on Saturday February 24. He collected Palmer and a friend and took them to a nightclub.

At 1am, he received a call from Palmer's friend asking him to take the very drunk girl home.

"At no point did I touch her. She did not even pay me because her friend had already done it, so we'd never even come into contact."

It emerged that when Palmer got to her door, she found she was locked out. She made her way to a neighbour's house and claimed she had been raped. Hours later, Mr Bishop was arrested.

While he waited for the police to decide what action to take, there was no possibility of life returning to normal. His red Nissan was seized by police, making it impossible for him to work.

"Sue and I agreed we wouldn't tell anyone. We didn't want to upset our parents or our children, we didn't want it to get out. I was afraid of the backlash."

Two days before he was due to report back to Yeovil Police Station, Mr Bishop received a phone call from his solicitor. "He said not to bother turning up because no action was being taken against me. It was like being stabbed through the heart to think that they could just leave it like that."

He wrote a letter of complaint to the Chief Constable of Avon and Somerset Police. "In the end, they sent someone to my house to apologise, but I wanted it in writing as well. I wanted a letter exonerating me."

In April last year, mother- of-two, Palmer pleaded guilty to the false rape allegation and was jailed for 10 months by Bristol Crown Court.

Even seeing his accuser jailed did not compensate for what Mr Bishop suffered. "The mental scars run deep. I'm a very nervous person now. I can't get what happened out of my head."

The publicity of the court action against Palmer also forced the couple to tell their family and friends what happened.

The decision by a Taunton tribunal that he was eligible to apply for compensation was hugely symbolic: "Finally, it makes clear all the distress I have suffered. Women who make up stories like these should be put on the sex offenders' register. Lies like these ruin people's lives."


COMMENT: Mr Bishop's final remarks say it all.