February 01 2023

Lavinia Nourse: ‘I desperately want the law to be changed’

Lavinia Nourse: ‘I desperately want the law to be changed’

The widow of a senior judge has joined the campaign for those accused of child sexual abuse to have anonymity after being cleared of historic sexual abuse charges.

In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, Lady Lavinia Nourse claimed that she was suffering post-traumatic stress disorder after she lost her husband Sir Martin Nourse – a former acting Master of the Rolls – and became embroiled in what she described as ‘the worst nightmare anyone could find themselves in’.

Last month the 77 year old Lady Lavinia was acquitted on 17 counts of historic child sex abuse of a boy under the age of 12. Jurors at Peterborough’s Nightingale court took less than five hours of deliberation to find her not guilty of 17 charges.

According to the Press Association, Lady Lavinia told jurors the complainant was ‘obviously after money’ and that the allegations were ‘completely untrue’. The prosecuting barrister Jennifer Knight QC, told the trial the boy ‘tried to bury away the memories’ but that, years later, after he got married and had children, he ‘became increasingly troubled by his recollection’ and told his wife. High-profile friends were called as character witnesses including the journalist Simon Heffer who said she was ‘a person I regard as being of complete integrity’.

In a statement issued after the conclusion of the trial, the widow said: ‘These cruel and baseless allegations were made after the death of my husband Sir Martin Nourse and my life since that time has been a living hell. Allegations made during the trial sought to traduce the memory of my beloved husband, who it was claimed had turned a blind eye. Defending myself and my husband’s memory during the trial has been the most difficult and heaviest burden of my life. My very greatest relief in being exonerated is having my husband’s reputation fully restored.’

In an interview with Heffer, Lady Lavinia said she now supported the FAIR (Falsely Accused Individuals for Reform) campaign run by Daniel Janner QC – son of Greville Janner – and backed by Sir Cliff Richard, Paul Gambaccini, Liam Allan and others. ‘Being falsely accused myself and having that exposed in the media was the worst thing that has happened to me in my entire life. Even though untrue, the stigma is almost impossible to eradicate,’ wrote Sir Cliff on FAIR’s website. ‘Hence the importance of FAIR’s campaign to change the law to provide for anonymity before charge in sexual allegations and hence my continued work with FAIR in the future.’

According to Simon Heffer, Lady Lavinia has been left ‘heavily out of pocket, despite her innocence, because her costs in winning the case are covered only at the meagre legal aid rate – and as she was effectively fighting for her life, she had no choice but to hire a brilliant QC’.

‘I desperately want the law to be changed,’ she told me the journalist. ‘That’s the only reason I am doing this interview. I feel massive injustice. I will get over it, but it’s going to take me a very long time. Had I been found guilty it would have been a different matter. But to have my photograph splashed across every newspaper with the details of the case – it can’t be right that the accuser has anonymity for life, and judgment has to be made by my friends on me.’

The article reports how her accuser approached her in the summer of 2018 to ‘take responsibility’ for incidents he claimed had taken place in the 1980s. ‘Call me naïve, but I couldn’t possibly understand what I was meant to have done. I was just poleaxed,’ she recounted. ‘It was quite clear that the accuser was in a very severe mental state. I thought it would be helpful, because it was mentioned that he was having psychotherapy, if I went to meet his psychotherapist. I could find out what was happening in his mind and see if I could help.’

Without her knowledge, that meeting was recorded. She met her accuser again and ‘they discussed her finances’. In December, she was interviewed by Cambridgeshire Police for four-and-a-half hours and then she had did not hear any developments for 18 months before being charged.

‘I completely collapsed,’ she said. ‘This was all going on in a pandemic, and I had to deal with these things entirely on my own. To have this happen on top of all of that made life incredibly difficult. I was incoherent for a long time.’