In the Media

Convicted rapist is freed from jail… because his trial 'took too long'

PUBLISHED May 13, 2009

A man jailed for life after being convicted of poisoning and raping a vulnerable woman has been freed - because his trial was too long.

Appeal Court judges ruled its six-month length had made it very difficult for the jury trying Kevin O'Dowd to 'keep its eye on the ball'.

'Each member of the court is regrettably driven to the conclusion that the verdicts of the jury are not safe and therefore cannot stand,' said Mr Justice Beatson yesterday. 

'For a trial involving just one defendant and the relatively simple issues that the jury had to decide to have lasted for this length of time, with the consequent vast cost to the public, is not only disproportionate but a serious blot on the administration of justice.

'Many of the delays could be justified individually, but viewed collectively, it is entirely unacceptable for the case to have taken anything like this length of time.'

The Crown did not seek a retrial, so O'Dowd, from Lewisham, South East London, was cleared and will now walk free. The 62-year-old thanked the court and gave his legal team the thumbs-up as he was led from the dock.

At the end of the trial - which ran from December 6, 2006 until June 22, 2007 - O'Dowd was convicted by a majority verdict of falsely imprisoning, threatening to kill, poisoning, sexually assaulting and twice raping his victim, who was in her 30s.

He was jailed for life and ordered to serve a minimum of nine years behind bars.

The Crown said O'Dowd locked the woman in her own flat, threatened to kill her with a knife, and forced her to take anti-psychotic medicine.

He vehemently denied the charges, insisting the woman was completely unreliable and telling his legal team that 'no point was to be conceded'.

The trial, which lasted 42 days, was interrupted by Christmas, New Year and Easter holidays - but Mr Justice Beatson said that was the tip of the iceberg.

There were concerns over O'Dowd's health - he needed 'frequent short breaks' for medication and had to be admitted to hospital during his cross-examination. Further delay was caused by his decision to sack and replace his barrister in the midst of the trial.

O'Dowd's instruction that no point was to be conceded also meant that 'the Crown was required to prove matters which, in many trials, would have been uncontentious or admitted'.

The most serious delay in the trial was caused by the need for an in-depth investigation of three allegations of rape O'Dowd had faced 22 and 17 years earlier and which were introduced by the Crown as evidence of his bad character.

The judge delivered a summing-up at the trial which ran to 434 pages, added Mr Justice Beatson, sitting with Lord Justice Scott Baker and Mrs Justice Rafferty.