Published: 14/02/2013 16:57 - Updated: 14/02/2013 17:04

Sex offender plea rejected

Written byby Brian Horne

APPEAL judges have rejected a Moray sex offender’s claim that he should have been able to tell a jury that his victim had “cried wolf” on another occasion.

Clifford Mearns (50), told the Court of Criminal Appeal in Edinburgh that the trial which led to a six year sentence for indecent assaults and indecency with young girls was unfair.

He challenged previous rulings that prevented him alleging that one of his accusers had been charged with wasting police time. She was said to have falsely claimed she had been driven to woods by a man - not Mearns - and forced to perform sex acts.

The issue was deemed to be so important that five judges, instead of the usual three, heard the legal arguments.

If Mearns, of Buckie, had been successful, the decision could have changed the way some rape trials are conducted - and given accused an extra card to play.

A five judge decision sets a bench-mark for dealing with similar questions in the future.

Mearns had been found him guilty of three indecent assaults and another charge of indecency.

The offences, committed at addresses in the Buckie area, dated back to May 1991 and one of his victims was only five years old at the time. Mearns was jailed in 2011.

The jury heard how Mearns forced one girl, who was between six and ten at the time, to give him oral sex.

Mearns’ legal team were not allowed to question the girl over the alleged incident in the woods.

Defence lawyers tried twice to lead the evidence, once at a preliminary hearing and once during the trial at the High Court in Inverness, and were refused permission both times.

Appeal judges heard at the Court of Criminal Appeal today (Thursday) that the girl spoke to police about the woods allegation in 2006 but later admitted that much of what she said wasn’t true. She was charged with wasting police time but the case never made it into court.

At the time she was a vulnerable teenager in care.

Mearns claims that if the jury at his trial heard about the girl’s lies they might have been less likely to believe her.

The law at present prevents discussion of “collateral” issues at any trial such as evidence about a specific assault or other incident.

There are further safeguards for women who claim they have been raped. Lawyers cannot quiz them about their previous sexual history, for example, unless it is closely linked to the charge.

There are other questions which can only be put if a judge gives permission.

Mearns’ defence QC, Keith Stewart, told the appeal judges that the jury had been kept in ignorance of significant evidence which may have allowed them to draw a different conclusion about the girl’s credibility.

But advocate depute Gilliam Wade, for the Crown, said if Mearns got his way it would open up rape victims to the risk of having their sexual and medical history aired in public.

Delivering today’s ruling, Lord Justice Clark Lord Carloway noted that the girl had not been convicted of wasting police time. If she had been found guilty she could have been questioned about the conviction.

The judges concluded that even if the evidence about her alleged false complaint had been wrongly excluded it would have made no real difference to the outcome of the case, so there had been no miscarriage of justice.

The other judges, Lord Clarke, Lord Menzies, Lord Brodie and Lady Cosgrove agreed.

The judge at the High Court in Edinburgh told Clifford Mearns (48) that he had left his victims suffering “significant and lasting adverse consequences”.

Mearns was a former chef in the Army, and also worked offshore for a number of years.

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