By Louise Ashton, with commentary from Matt Tattersall
The screen that separated me and Andrew wasn’t dark enough. I could see his bulky figure looming beside me. Part of me thought that it would have been less frightening to sit beside him. I wanted to look him in the eye.
I inhaled sharply, stepped forward and did my best to look upstanding. My eyes met with the defence lawyer in front of me. I tried to tell myself that a man and his job are separate. I tried to imagine his wife and his children, and that outside of the court room he was a good person, but my hands began to quiver. He was slim. Slim build, slim features, small eyes. He wore a navy tailored suit that held its shape impeccably. I knew that he was going to undermine me and I hated him for it.
‘Miss Allen, do you testify that on December 11th 2012, you and the defendant Andrew Bird spent the evening together?’
‘I do, yes.’
‘At his parents’ house?’
He leaned backwards against the table, rested his hands and crossed his legs, ‘Can you tell the court what time you arrived?’
‘Around six thirty‑’
‘-and what time did you leave?’ ‘Nine.’
He crossed his arms, tilting his head ever so slightly, ‘Miss Allen can you describe to me what you were wearing?’
‘Jeans and a t-shirt.’
‘What kind of a t-shirt?’
‘I’m not sure.’ I stumbled. He was moving too quickly.
‘You aren’t sure?’
‘You can’t remember what you were wearing the night that you allege that you were raped?’ His lip curled. He glanced over at the jury.
‘No I do not.’
‘Okay. And can you tell me the events of the evening please.’
I took a sip of water, placed both feet firmly against the ground and began, ‘Andrew came to pick me up, we went to his house and we spent the evening in his bedroom.’
‘Can you confirm the address please?’
‘Thank you, and that’s where you allege that the assault took place?’
‘In the defendant’s bedroom?’
‘Can you tell me who was in the house that night, Miss Allen?’
‘There were the two of us, his younger brother Joseph, and his parents.’ I pointed at the middle-class couple sat stiff lipped in the audience.
‘So three people were present, other than yourself and the defendant.’
‘Three other people in the house.’
He stood, began to pace the length of the courtroom smiling, ‘So just to confirm, you, Mr Bird and three additional family members, for the duration of the evening?’
He turned with a smile towards the jury. His lip curled once more, ‘Can you describe to me the events that occurred immediately before the alleged incident?’
‘I’m sorry’, I mumbled. ‘I don’t understand.’
‘What were you doing before you allege that the defendant raped you?’ He spoke slowly, a little too loud and took care to move his lips. I took a moment to consider my answer. I thought that I’d play him at his own game.
‘We were discussing the prospect of ending our relationship,’ I said with deliberate slowness, ‘and I told him that things were not going well-‘
‘Sorry, can you specify who you mean when you say ‘him’ please?’
Janice spoke up, ‘Objection. Your honour, the defence is well aware of who the claimant is referring to.’
The Judge raised an eyebrow, ‘Mr Walker, based on the sensitivity of such issues I ask that you refer to the defendant solely as defendant in all further discussions.’
I was thankful that he’d been knocked off his pedestal, if only for a moment.
‘Miss Allen can you describe to me, in detail, the conversation that took place before you claim that you were accosted.’
I took a minute. I didn’t want to give him anything to trip me up on.
‘We were sat in his bedroom. We were both on the bed, and I said that I didn’t think that things were working in our relationship. He placed his hand on the inside of my shirt, stroked my lower back and said don’t say that, we’ll be fine. I asked him not to stroke my back, to which he replied, I’m just tickling you. Then he hooked two fingers underneath my bra strap and pulled me backwards on to the bed.’
I felt confident that I remembered everything in clear detail, but the jury were watching me intensely.
‘Can you demonstrate to me the angle at which you were sat?’
I shifted, slipping slightly against the wood. My own perspiration made the angle difficult, ‘like this.’
‘Okay. So it would be fair to say that you were sat on the edge of the bed?’
I nodded, ‘Yes it would be.’
‘And you asked the defendant not to touch you?’
‘Yes, I did.’
‘Would it be fair to say that you were frightened?’
‘I was.’ He was exhausting me.
‘Do you recall giving a statement at Tameside Police Department on April 7th?’
‘And do you recall signing an affidavit to confirm that the statement, was, to the best of your knowledge, true?’
‘I do, yes.’
‘Then I ask that you review Exhibit B. Your honour, I am presenting to the witness a diagram that she produced for DI Briggs as evidence.’
He handed me the paper. It was the yellow highlighter diagram that I’d submitted of Andrew’s bedroom. I shifted in my seat, eyes downward, trying desperately to figure out his angle before he pounced. He took two, swift steps forward and retrieved the paper from the bench, holding it up for his audience.
‘Can you please tell the court the distance noted on that diagram between the bed and the door that would have allowed you to leave?’
‘One metre,’ I mumbled.
‘I’m sorry?’ He placed a cupped hand to his ear. ‘One metre.’
He shook his head and looked expectantly at the jury.