It is late, on a wet Tuesday evening in November, and I am driving home, listening to endless talk of Brexit on the radio. The phone rings in the car and cuts off the news. It’s an unknown mobile number; I press the answer button on the steering wheel. A moment’s hesitation and a woman’s voice comes over the speakers; middle-aged, well-spoken. She’s almost in tears and struggles to get her words out. ‘You don’t know me, and I’m so sorry to ring you this late. I got your number from my lawyer friend Stuart, and he told me you are the person I need to call. It’s about my son. He’s in a police station now. He’s been arrested for rape.’
I have been a criminal barrister for more than 25 years and a QC since 2013. A lot of people have my number and more and more of them are being asked for it by friends, colleagues and family members, whom I would never have heard from even five years ago. This is #MeToo, as it trickles down from the worlds of sport and entertainment, into the workplace and, increasingly, universities, where many young people take their first real steps towards independence. Also, where they frequently begin to have sex, or at least more sex, free of the restrictions of home.
The woman who rang me about her son never thought she would need the number of a criminal defence QC, let alone to deal with her own son’s arrest for rape. She is a wealthy and high-profile business-woman, involved in various charities and in line for an MBE. With her son’s arrest, her life changed for good, in an instant.
Richard had been marched from the university library by two uniformed police officers, in front of his friends, staff, fellow students and campus security.