Thursday, August 27, 2009

'I've had a gun to my head'

I'll let this one speak for itself.

Not Guilty on all charges.

AJAX -- For two years Ray Collingham felt like somebody was holding a gun to his head.

The reality was even worse.

"I was charged with seven counts of sexual assault, four counts of sexual interference, two counts of invitation to sexual touching and two sexual exploitation charges," Collingham said in an interview yesterday.

The 39-year-old former gymnastics teacher was accused -- and acquitted earlier this month -- of having sex with an 11-year-old boy he had coached.

"It's upsetting to read the charges," Collingham said while sitting at the kitchen table in the Ajax apartment he shares with his boyfriend, Brian Wood, 29. "All of the charges are false. All manufactured. Ridiculous charges."

Those words are part of a message that Collingham has desperately wanted to get out since July 9, 2007, when he was arrested by RCMP in Smithers, B.C., where he and Wood were living at the time.

But Collingham couldn't profess his innocence like he wanted to. His lawyer, Graham T. Clark, did what criminal lawyers do and instructed his client to remain silent until all the facts emerge in court.

After those facts emerged during a two-week trial in June, Justice David Salmers found Collingham not guilty on all counts.

"I am left with a reasonable doubt whether any of the alleged criminal contact or any criminal contact occurred," Salmers said in his ruling. The acquittal was based on what Salmers said were inconsistencies in statements and testimony by the complainant.

Now Collingham wants his life, name and reputation back.

"I've had a gun to my head, so to speak, for two years and now I'm hoping slowly that I'm going to be able to get back on my feet," Collingham said.

Although the nightmare ordeal began officially in July 2007, when he was arrested, Collingham's saga has roots in March 2001, when he began coaching the boy, who lived in Peterborough.
It was the boy's mom, Collingham said, who very nearly ruined his life. Collingham said she had been depressed and unstable over the breakup of her marriage. Seeing that the family was going through a hard time, Collingham and Wood allowed the mom, her son, and her daughter, to move into their Newcastle home.

Collingham maintains he was the victim of a smear campaign incited by the boy's mother, who resented him for caring for her son while her behaviour grew increasingly more out-of-control because of her failing marriage. Specifically, Collingham and Wood threatened to call police and children's aid workers over her erratic behaviour. They also threatened to request custody of the kids.

Things soured quickly. By early 2005 the relationship between Collingham and Wood and the mom had deteriorated.

Collingham also said the mother claimed to be in love with him, even though she was well aware Collingham was a gay man in a committed relationship. He said she once threw a chair at him.

She also once forced her son to defecate in his pants -- and laughed about it -- after refusing to stop the car at a bathroom when the boy indicated he needed to go.

But it was the mother's hacking into Collingham's e-mail and Facebook accounts -- something she admitted in court, saying she wrote two e-mails from Collingham's accounts -- that caused police to investigate Collingham and ultimately charge him. The hacking took place in early 2007, a few months before he was arrested.

"The mother had threatened to get me a few months prior to this, in what way she was going to get me I have no idea," Collingham said. "Well, she got me."

The story gets bizarre at this point and Collingham acknowledges this.

"The mother manufactured some e-mails," Collingham said. "She hacked into my e-mail accounts, my Facebook account, and her son's, and she was writing sexually explicit e-mails from my account to her son, deleting them, and writing sexually explicit e- mails back to me and then deleting them. She then printed them out and brought them to police."

After a complaint was made by the mom to police in Toronto in 2005, the file was transferred first to Peterborough police, then finally to Durham Regional Police. Collingham was arrested by RCMP, held in a holding cell for four nights in B.C., and flown to Ontario. After another few days in jail in Lindsay, Collingham was released on $5,000 bail.

The same day, police in Durham issued a press release outlining Collingham's arrest, the charges he faced, and the claim that there could be more victims. In a news article, an investigating officer said the alleged assaults, which were never proven in court, "definitely had a tremendous impact on (the boy's) family, it definitely had a tremendous impact on him."

Collingham said he couldn't believe how prejudicial and biased the police appeared to be. He said such statements implied that he was guilty until proven innocent.

Collingham said the boy lied "all the way through" the ordeal and that homophobia among the boy's family was at the "core" of the allegations.

"I'm not really one to use that card," Collingham said of the homophobia issue. "My lawyer said 'Ray, look from the outside in, that's exactly what's happening here'."

His acquittal was an overwhelming relief, he said. But the ordeal has left him doubting the justice system.

"I highly respect police officers. Two or three of my close friends are police officers. But now, seeing how things unfold when you're charged with something like this, it raises my suspicion about how honest some police officers are and some aren't," Collingham said.

"Everyone has their own opinions, but that's why I'm here today," he said. "I want to explain that these were false allegations, that I was acquitted. I want to be able to rebuild my life."