Once you’ve been accused of sex abuse, nothing will take it away: Lady Nourse describes the three years of ‘pure hell’ that have torn her life apart after she was acquitted of molesting a boy
- Lady Lavinia Nourse, 77, was acquitted after a shocking court case last month
- However, she said being accused of sex abuse and the trial will follow her for life
- She believes law should change so the accused has anonymity up until verdict
The bomb that would lay waste to Lavinia Nourse’s life was dropped in the middle of Lincoln’s Inn Fields in Central London, in late 2017.
The park was a special place for her: prior to her husband’s recent death, she’d spent 45 happy years as the wife of Sir Martin Nourse, former acting Master of the Rolls, one of England’s leading judges, and a rented flat in the area came with the job. She’d loved that park. They both had.
Maybe her assassin knew that. She has no way of knowing. There were people walking about, dogs on leads, office workers from the nearby legal chambers taking a morning jog, when her companion calmly announced there was something he wanted to say.
‘He said: “You sexually abused me”,’ recalls Lavinia, physically shaking at the memory. Tears, never too far away, start to spill. The abuse was historic, he alleged, committed when he was a child in the early Eighties.
Gobsmacked, poleaxed, revolted, devastated, sickened. Lavinia, now 77, struggles to find the correct word to articulate her reaction. ‘I mean, what do you say? I had no idea. I didn’t even know what it meant. I know it sounds naïve, but, someone my age, well, we’re not familiar with the phrase “sexual abuse”. It seems so common nowadays, but in my day it was something we didn’t quite comprehend.
‘Certainly not like that. Certainly not between a woman and a . . . (her voice catches over the word) . . . a boy.
‘It’s vile. Evil. Disgusting. Revolting.’ Her face crumples again.
Following three years of ‘pure hell’, Lady Lavinia Nourse, 77, (pictured at home in Suffolk) was recently acquitted off all charges of sex abuse
What followed were three years of what Lavinia describes as ‘pure hell’. She was eventually charged with 12 counts of indecent assault and five counts of indecency with a child.
Her much-publicised trial in Peterborough ended last month with her being acquitted of all charges. The jury took just three hours to consider their unanimous verdicts and Lavinia walked out a free woman — without a stain on her character. In theory, anyway.
‘I’m told three hours is very quick but it didn’t seem like that to me. I don’t even believe it now. I sometimes think it’s a dream, that it’s really going to happen and they’re going to come and get me after all. I know that’s silly, but when you’ve lived such a nightmare you can’t just wipe it away overnight. It just doesn’t go away. Nothing will take it away.
‘I know it’s ridiculous. Everyone keeps saying: “You must be so thrilled. Move on. Carry on.” Believe me, I want to and I will but I can’t do it as quickly as everyone wants me to. I am still severely traumatised.’
She clearly is. This formidable lady who could once hold a room with her presence, charm, and saucy laugh, today leaps like a cat when the telephone rings. The answerphone is another tricky area. (It was here she first received the message from ‘Sergeant something-or-other’ to attend the police station for questioning.) Also, there are ‘hundreds and hundreds of letters and emails’ of condolence following the death of her husband that she hasn’t opened and ‘can’t bear to’.
She knows that a ‘not guilty’ verdict is rarely the end of the matter for the accused.
‘There will be people who still think that the jury got it wrong and if that’s the case I can’t do anything about it.’ The nudges in the street, the second glances — the Google searches — will follow Lady Nourse for life.
And that is what really cuts deep with Lavinia. While her name has become public property that of her accuser remains hidden for ever — a point of law in all sexual offences cases, which she fervently believes needs to be changed.
Her shocking court case ended last month where she had the support of her close friends, including Dame Mary Archer (pictured), who gave character witnesses for her in court
‘It’s extraordinary. He’s free to do what he likes, tell whomever he wants. I fear he’s not going to let it rest. He’s going to keep blackening me and blackening me because, as far as he’s concerned, the jury were out of order, and there is nothing I can do about that.
‘The law should be changed so that the accused, like the alleged victim, has anonymity up until the point of verdict. They are reluctant to do this as they say it prevents other victims coming forward, but that’s a risk someone is going to have to take.
‘Hopefully, we can get a change — and that is why I am doing this interview. This isn’t my sob story, this is about me trying to help others in similar circumstances.’
To this end, she has been approached by the family of Lord (Greville) Janner, the former Labour MP, who, at the time of his death in 2015 aged 87, was facing 22 charges of historic child abuse relating to nine boys. He was deemed too ill to stand trial but always denied the allegations and died without being able to defend himself.
Then there are the much publicised cases of former Conservative MP Harvey Proctor and the late Leon Brittan, MP and former Home Secretary — accused of sex abuse by the fantastist Carl Beech. Their lives and reputations were wrecked. The indelible stain of being accused of sex abuse remains, overshadowing everything, even when the accused are in their graves.
It’s a campaign group she joins very reluctantly. ‘As far as I know, I’m the only high-profile case that actually made it to trial,’ she says. ‘I get the feeling, and of course I cannot prove this, that the CPS were always very concerned that because of Martin’s status in the law, they could not appear to not charge someone like me.’
So how did she find herself in this position? Of course, so much must, for legal reasons, remain unsaid to protect her accuser’s identity, but financial gain was deemed the prime motive of her accuser by her defence team in court.
Indeed, when she thinks back to that dreadful encounter in the park, there was ‘a line that kept recurring’ from her accuser. ‘He kept saying: “I’m sure there’s a way forward.”’ Lavinia is convinced she was being blackmailed.
After all home, for 25 years, was Dullingham House, an enormous, handsome 18th-century pile near Newmarket, set in gardens she designed herself that were once featured in Country Life magazine.
Plus she’d an established PR career, organising premieres for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Starlight Express and Phantom Of The Opera in London and New York as well as organising the public celebrations for the Queen’s 60th birthday.
Home today is a much more modest, albeit beautiful, gated property near the former country home. She says she ‘didn’t do much to it’ because she feared she’d be bankrupt. She is pleased now that she can finish the work that had been on hold because of the proceedings.
Prior to Sir Martin’s death in November 2017, the plan had always been to sell the country house. As a couple, they were, she says, property rich and cash poor. Plus the house was far too big for her to live in alone.
The house had just gone on the market and a grieving Lavinia was in the middle of planning her husband’s memorial service, when her accuser made his approach.
However, despite walking away a free woman, she said that being accused of molesting a boy means her name has become public property and the trial will follow her for life (pictured in May during the much-publicised trial in Peterborough)
‘Once the accuser realised that I wasn’t going to cough up, his motivation I think was: “Right we’ll go to court, she will be found guilty and I’ll sue for damages.” I would have been cleaned out. I’m sure that’s what he had in mind.’
Few people ever knew what Lavinia was enduring for those three years it took for the case to come to trial. After that devastating encounter in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, she had to attend a dinner. ‘I had my suitcase with me.’ It never occurred to her not to attend. No one suspected a thing. ‘You might not see it, because I am really tired, but I have an immense capacity to wash my face, brush my hair and push on. You’re either born with the strength to do it or you crumble.’
She also had the support of her close friends with the great and good of the Conservative Party, including former Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind, the former Defence Minister Michael Mates and Dame Mary Archer, all of whom gave character witnesses for her in court.
The Nourses had become very close with Jeffrey and Mary Archer when they lived in Grantchester, near Cambridge, back in the Eighties and were regulars at the Archers’ legendary ‘champagne and shepherd’s pie’ parties at their London penthouse every Christmas.
Mary became a trusted confidante: ‘There were so few people I felt I could turn to. However, there were a small number of friends who had supported me through everything and I do not know what I would have done without them; some of whom very kindly appeared as witnesses at the trial.’
‘I told Mary as she was one of the very, very few people who had known me from the early days of my marriage. And I knew — I hoped — she would be supportive and of course she has been just that.’
The prosecution case was strengthened by a woman who gave evidence to say she had twice witnessed Lady Nourse abusing the boy — claims Lady Nourse vehemently denied and which were dismissed by the jury.
The most devastating accusation, however, the witness made was that Sir Martin had been made aware of what was supposedly going on and did nothing.
The wife of the late Sir Martin Nourse (pictured together), believes the law should be changed so that the accused, like the alleged victim, has anonymity up until the point of verdict
‘It’s unbelievable. I don’t know how he could turn a blind eye to something going on, I find the whole thing completely preposterous. I could be dragged through the court, but to drag my husband down, a man with such a high reputation, not only in his legal career, but in his private life. A man of total probity. A man who didn’t have an unkind thought in his head. An extraordinarily honest, decent man. Well, I couldn’t have it.’
She simply ‘collapsed’ after hearing the succession of 17 ‘not guilty’ verdicts read out. Her legal team helped her from court as she was struggling to walk.
But now she’s developed her own coping mechanisms. She never once relied on drink or medication as props, something she is very proud of.
‘I have been lucky because I have not had to have any medication at all. Even during the trial. But six to eight months ago I started to meditate — Transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS (a treatment that stimulates specific areas of the brain to treat depression).
‘Don’t ask me how or why, but it works. I would have poo-pooed it before, but what did I have to lose? I do it twice a day. For 20 minutes.
‘I would grab at anything. I never thought that would work. I can’t say it’s done a huge amount, but I wouldn’t like to think where I’d be if I hadn’t done it. It is a discipline and I will continue it for the rest of my life.
‘Actually all you are actually doing is giving yourself 40 minutes a day of shutting everything else out — and the pace that we live at, it is not a bad thing. Anyone can do it. It’s nothing extraordinary and we should all be doing it. Our minds are in such turmoil we never give them a chance to let go.’
There’s a glimmer of the old feistiness back. She’s making progress. A nugget of political gossip from Andrew — unprintable naturally — has her rocking with laughter. She’s washing her face, doing her hair. She’s going to be accepting those invitations soon. ‘I feel better today than I did yesterday, and for that I’m grateful,’ she says.
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