‘MS A’ turned to the police for help when a powerful public figure sexually assaulted her. But what she experienced was a study in injustice; a story of obstruction and leaks, court inaction, and betrayal to the Murdoch press by the very people who should have protected her. Here, she speaks about an ordeal every woman could face, in which she sees stark parallels with the events leading to the death of Caroline Flack, and asks: how many more must suffer?
WHEN I heard Caroline Flack had killed herself, I found I couldn’t breathe.
I know what it feels like for your secrets to be printed in a national newspaper, for the truth to be twisted, for the public to think the worst of you and to not be able to set the record straight.
I have experienced it. She could have been me.
I had been following the reporting of Caroline’s arrest and the fallout of that with a creeping sense of dread. It was all so familiar – the lurid tabloid coverage, the ‘facts’ that – if true – should have been private; the savaging of a vulnerable young woman whose voice, whose explanation, was the only thing missing, and the only thing we needed to hear.
I am devastated Caroline didn’t survive this vicious public shaming. But I am not surprised.
In the early 2000s, I tried to take a high-profile man who had sexually assaulted me to court. He was rich and famous and powerful, all the things that I – 19 years old at the time of the attack – was not.
I was granted lifelong anonymity by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), which is a vital part of encouraging survivors to report what has happened to them.
I was told that if a newspaper printed my name, the editor would be sent to prison. That felt safe.
But as soon as I reported the full details of what happened to me to the police, specifics about my allegations began appearing in the national press.
Not my name – ‘just’ my most deeply held secrets. It is hard to describe how vulnerable that makes you feel.
I became paranoid. I believed my house was bugged; I searched every piece of furniture, in every room, every inch of every window, inside and out… every day. I ran taps when I spoke about the case to my friends or on the phone. I refused to talk about it in public spaces. And still my deepest secrets continued to appear, as if by black magic, in the pages of Rupert Murdoch’s press.
My assailant was arrested and charged but ultimately the allegations had to be withdrawn. A “technicality” that emerged some way into the police investigation meant the CPS no longer believed we would win in court, and decided not to prosecute him after all.
My house was besieged by tabloid reporters. I was offered tens of thousands of pounds to tell my side of the story. This was something I was desperate to do – I wanted to explain what the technicality was, that it didn’t mean the assault didn’t happen, that I wasn’t a liar.
But telling my side of the story would mean losing my anonymity, exposing my family to the tabloids, making myself even more vulnerable, even more publicly, and by that time I was too terrified to do so.
I had already experienced hearing people gossip at bus stops, in cafes, on trains about whether or not this terrible, life-changing experience had really happened to me.
I got off one train and walked into a stag-do of men wearing masks of my assailant’s face, like it was all some hilarious joke. Imagine if those men had been able to recognise me by my face too. I already felt exposed enough, so I turned all the newspapers away.
Regardless, the following Sunday the News of the World printed an article about me and my case that was so revealing it made me dizzy.
Here were details of my background and life experiences that some of my closest friends didn’t even know.
Here was a description of the physical reaction I had to nearly bumping into my assailant a few years after the attack. Here was the insinuation that I was a fantasist – a liar. What was not here was the truth.
The article flippantly stated that I was in hiding… and suicidal.
How did they know? It took me a long time – and training as a journalist – to work it out. I wasn’t bugged (to the best of my knowledge), I may have been phone-hacked, but you can’t glean the kind of information in that article from a voicemail. It was the Met. The police.
The organisation I trusted with my secrets in order to try and get help, in order to stop a bad man. Someone – and I still don’t know exactly who, but I am working on it – sold me out.
The Met has since admitted this and I have received an apology and a sum of compensation.
When Caroline Flack was arrested, in December 2019, I got that dizzy feeling again. On the front page of The Sun was a photo of the alleged ‘crime scene’, printed underneath were ‘facts’ about what the photograph showed and meant. How could the paper have got this picture if not from the man she loved, or (worse?), the CPS or police?
My heart ached for Caroline that day. I knew how she must be feeling – terrified, isolated, not knowing who to trust. I – at least – had anonymity to cling to, and I still felt so exposed it was as if I had been assaulted again.
Caroline Flack, that beautiful, funny, talented woman, who made her name being lovely and likeable, had nowhere to hide. Or so it must have seemed to her. Then she found a way.
I wish Caroline had waited. She would one day have been able to explain what really happened, to tell the truth and clear her name. I urge you to read the Instagram post she wrote shortly before she died (reproduced above).
She was advised not to upload It, but it talks with searing honesty about how painful it feels to have the worst moments of your life pored over and speculated about for other people’s entertainment.
It feels like you don’t matter, like no one cares what the truth is, like, despite what you thought, no one cares about you.
I didn’t know Caroline, but I feel her loss very deeply because, as I’m sure all other victims of press intrusion will be feeling too, and as I said in the opening paragraph of this article – she could have been me.
This cannot be allowed to happen again.
The second part of the Leveson Inquiry was meant to look at, among other things, the relationship between the police and newspaper industry.
The Government cancelled it in 2018, saying it was too costly and time-consuming to pursue. Costly, perhaps, but to whom?
Lord Justice Leveson has since said he “knew” tabloid editors were lying to him about the illegal means by which they obtained people’s private information.
In December 2019, a year after Leveson 2 was cancelled, The Sun printed photographs of Caroline Flack’s bedsheets without her permission. Her bedsheets. What can be more private than that?
So that no one else ever feels as alone as Caroline did when the press turned on her; as hounded, as misquoted, as rubbished, as if there is no one she can trust – the second part of the Leveson inquiry should happen now, and happen in her name.