‘He raped me with his T-shirt round my neck but is still walking free’

Single mum Claire Ashwell was 19 when she was raped by a man in Leeds in 2003.

Now 38 and living in South Elmsall, near Wakefield, Claire has bravely waived her legal right to anonymity to describe how she was unable to report the crime until several years later, but the perpetrator was never charged.

Never got justice: Rape victim Claire Ashwell at her home in South Elmsall.

Never got justice: Rape victim Claire Ashwell at her home in South Elmsall.

She is one of the 95 per cent of women in West Yorkshire who reported being raped, but never got justice.

The mum-of-two had a T-shirt tied around her neck while she was attacked.

Lasting trauma left Claire unable to process and report what had happened to her until 15 years later, by which time witnesses could not help police further the investigation so that her attacker could be charged.

“In 2017, I had a full-on meltdown”, she said.

“It took me a long time to process it, but I realised I needed to report it to the police properly. It took a lot of guts to pick up the phone.”

Claire was subjected to the attack after a night out. The man attacked her while tying a T-shirt around her neck so she could not escape.

Due to both her shock and fear, Claire was only able to report the physical aspect of the attack to police at the time.

She later requested access to the report filed following the initial call to police that night.

“They said there was no sign of assault”, Claire explained.

“My eyes had been bloodshot and I had been in a state. How can you just let him go and say that?”

It was not until 2017 that she managed to come to terms with what had happened and picked up the phone, telling the call handler, ‘I was raped 15 years ago’.

She gave a full statement, a video interview and the names and details of two potential witnesses.

“One of the witnesses [police] messaged on Facebook”, Claire said.

“They told police they either didn’t want to get involved, or couldn’t remember. It had been a long time ago.”

A few weeks later, Claire was doing her shopping when she got a call from the detective investigating the allegation.

“I was standing there in Asda when they told me they wouldn’t be taking it any further because it had been too long. He had denied it, and it would be my word against his.

“Since then I have been having counselling”, Claire added.

“I was never offered anything in the way of victim support. I do feel I was very unsupported and not safeguarded.

“Some days I don’t want to leave the house or even open the curtains.”

A West Yorkshire Police spokesman said the report was “thoroughly and appropriately investigated” but could not be progressed to a prosecution stage “due to evidential difficulties”.

A spokeswoman for the Crown Prosecution Service said: “Sexual offences are some of the most complex cases we prosecute and we train our prosecutors to understand victim vulnerabilities and the impact of rape, as well as consent, myths and stereotypes.

“The growing gap between the number of rapes recorded, and the number of cases going to court is a cause of concern for all of us in the criminal justice system.

“We consider every case referred to us by the police and the CPS will seek to charge and robustly prosecute whenever our legal test is met.

“Victims have the right to ask for a review of their case by another prosecutor, independent of the original decision-maker, and this is another way we can make sure we are fair and transparent in what we do.”