A York charity director cleared of rape charges has spoken of being put through ‘hell’ in not one but two trials.
Gordon Campbell-Thomas, 73, of Ascot Way, was found not guilty on two charges of rape at York Crown Court on Friday.
The jury took five hours to reach their verdict.
This was the second time he was tried on the same charges. In the first trial, in August 2022, the jury were unable to reach a majority verdict.
Now Mr Campbell-Thomas is questioning why he had to face two trials, when he says: “There was no evidence. The police had no evidence.
“If they had they would have brought it forward. That is criminal.”
‘I was so scared’
He described the moment he waited to hear the verdict last week.
“When I was in the dock on Friday, my hands were on the rail of the bar in front of me – they were clasped tight,” he told YorkMix.
“I was so scared. I was honestly so scared. If it had gone the other way, I don’t know, I would probably have had a heart attack on the spot.”
He also worried what would happen to his disabled daughter who relied on him, had he been sent to prison.
When the jury delivered their ‘Not guilty’ verdicts, “I just held my hands up in prayer. I had people from the Islamic world praying for me. I had people from the Christian world praying for me. I had friends praying for me.”
He said the first word he uttered after he was cleared of all charges was simply: “Freedom!”
“I’ve gone through hell, my family, my friends have gone through hell,” he told YorkMix.
Mr Campbell-Thomas is a well known figure in the city. He founded Friends of St Nicholas Fields which transformed a former landfill site into a nature reserve, and was a director of another York environmental charity, the John Lally Foundation.
He is no longer connected to either charity.
He also stood for election to City of York Council on a number of occasions.
He never denied that he had sex with the woman, who was aged in her 20s, at his York flat in November 2020.
But he has always said the sex was consensual.
Key charge dropped
Originally he faced three charges. But one of those charges – that he administered a noxious substance to the woman – was withdrawn shortly before the first trial.
That was critical, Mr Campbell-Thomas said, as his accuser had told police she suspected he had spiked her drink.
During the trial, the prosecution admitted there was no evidence that he had spiked her drink. So, he asks, why did they charge him with administering a noxious substance in the first place?
“One word that kept coming up during two trials was the word evidence. What evidence is there for any of these charges?
“What evidence was there that this woman had been spiked? Was there something in her blood sample, her fingernails, her hair sample, whatever they took?
“There was no evidence. And obviously, there was no evidence in the end with the other two allegations.”
Mr Campbell-Thomas says he wants to “100% uphold a woman’s right to say she’s been abused or attacked”.
But to be accused of such a terrible crime when he was innocent was “devastating”.
Lucky to get through it
Mr Campbell-Thomas told YorkMix that his lowest point came last year. While the environmentalist was out walking, he spotted some death cap mushrooms.
“One death cap mushroom is going to kill you. And it jumps into your head. Am I going to be facing eight years in prison? I think that’s the minimum.
“And I could just eat this one nice mushroom and all my worries are gone. This is the level to which you descend.
“I’m just lucky I got through to the end.”
He said he’d received “so much support” throughout the judicial process. “My strength to carry on has been borne out by the network of love and support I’ve had from family and friends.
“That, and the knowledge that I knew I hadn’t committed these heinous crimes.”
Despite everything, Mr Campbell-Thomas said he was still concerned about his accuser, saying she had suffered by going through the trials as well.
And he understood that the police and the Crown Prosecution Service “probably had pressure on them from politicians to bring in guilty verdicts for rape”.
“But I don’t know why the Crown Prosecution Service proceeded,” he went on. “There was no evidence. I am hurt. I have spent nearly two and a half years in a sort of hell.”
Mr Campbell-Thomas is contacting his legal team this week to “see if there’s any recompense” for what he went through.
So what now?
“I want to get back involved in my work for the environment,” he said. “There’s a little patch of ground that’s close to where I live where I want to create a wildflower meadow.”
What the CPS say
A Crown Prosecution Service spokesperson told YorkMix: “All the evidence in this case was reviewed by a specialist lawyer in our Rape and Serious Sexual Offences Unit.
“It is not the role of the CPS to determine innocence or guilt but to put a case before a jury if our legal tests are met.
“We also have a duty to keep our cases under continuous review.
“As part of this process, we concluded that there was insufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction in relation to the offence of administering a noxious substance.
“Therefore this charge was not put before the jury at either trial.”