Victims of Shropshire rapist tell of trial ordeal at court

Victims of a Shropshire rapist jailed for 20 child sex charges today called for urgent changes to the way evidence is tested in court.

Robert Purcell, on the left wearing a black jacket, looks at the camera near Shrewsbury Crown Court. Picture: Ceri Saunders.
Robert Purcell, on the left wearing a black jacket, looks at the camera near Shrewsbury Crown Court. Picture: Ceri Saunders.

Two women who suffered years of abuse at the hands of Robert Purcell had to endure "traumatic" cross-examination during a three-week trial to see him locked up for 15 years.

And one of the women today revealed a blunder that saw a letter, naming her and the allegations against her attacker, mistakenly sent to her neighbour.

She has also called for practical measures to be put in courts after she came face to face with her rapist – after giving evidence from behind a screen.

And she said court scheduling also needs improvement, after hours waiting for the case to be heard added to her anxiety about reliving her ordeal in the witness box.

Purcell, 62, was found guilty of 11 counts of rape, six counts of indecent assault, two counts of indecency with a child and one count of another serious sexual assault.

Judge Robin Onions

Sentencing him at Shrewsbury Crown Court last month, Judge Robin Onions said: "You stole their childhood for your own sexual predatory."

The offences happened in Telford in the 1970s and 80s but Purcell's victims have taken decades to find the courage to tell police, after he threatened no one would believe them.

He had denied all the charges, so both women faced in-depth questioning by Purcell's defence barrister at the crown court.

"I felt like I was raped in front of the whole room of people," said Sarah, a name used by the Shropshire Star to protect her identity.

"I was battered. The barrister called me a liar. It was like being abused all over again. I felt like I had gone into a gladiators' ring, somebody had locked the gate behind me and I was tortured all over again.

"It was traumatic. I don't want anyone else to have to go through that."

The second victim, who the Shropshire Star will call Laura, was told by Purcell's defence barrister that her allegations were "fantasy".

Their plea for action comes as Justice Secretary Chris Grayling sets out a pilot for victims of sex crimes to give evidence via pre-recorded video to spare them hostile questioning by defence barristers.

Mr Grayling said: "It is simply not right that young and vulnerable victims are forced to relive the most traumatic experience they have ever had, often for days on end, when cross-examined in court."

His stand follows the tragic case of violinist Frances Andrade, who committed suicide just days after testifying against her former music teacher, who was later found guilty of indecently assaulting her when she was 14 and 15.

"I know exactly how she felt," said Sarah, who says she attempted suicide twice as a result of the shame and guilt she felt after being abused as a child.

"The government needs to make some changes and they need to be made now," she added.

Shrewsbury Crown Court

Laura called for practical measures to be put in place at courts, after she came face to face with the rapist. Purcell had moved to Cleethorpes and she had not seen him for more than 20 years.

"I had the screen across in the court room so I didn't have to see him again," she said.

"I walked into the cafe, stood and ordered a sandwich, I turned around and there he was inches away, looking right at me. I froze. I could not move.

"The fear I felt came rushing back and I was like a frightened little girl again. He should never have been there when I was there."

She said she felt "intimidated" when she passed the defendant and his family in the court reception.

And hours spent waiting for the proceedings to start made the ordeal of giving evidence "ten times worse," she said.

"Every morning we would be told to arrive at court at 10am for it to start at 10.30am," she explained.

"But all morning you sit there waiting and it's going over and over in your head and you are getting more and more stressed.

"Then you don't go in until 2pm and then it finishes early and they ask you to come back the next morning and it all starts over again. The whole system makes it very traumatic to go through with."

Before the case even got to court, Laura suffered a devastating blow when the list of charges she had made against Purcell was sent to a neighbour's address by mistake.

"I was disgusted," she said. "I don't want to walk down that end of my street now because anyone who opened the letter will know."

By law, anyone who makes an allegation of a sexual offence is entitled to life-long anonymity.

Laura received a letter of apology from the witness care unit at West Mercia Police, which promised a "review of process to ensure the issues encountered in this case are not experienced in future cases".

Detective inspector Mike Nally of West Mercia Police said: "We are very pleased with the convictions in the case and would like to praise the victims for the bravery they have shown throughout the criminal justice process.

"We hope the convictions give other victims the confidence to come forward and report offences to the police, no matter how long ago they suffered their abuse.

"We treat each and every report we receive extremely seriously and I hope the result in this case demonstrates that we will always do all we can to bring offenders to justice."

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