Jail At Last For Rapist Cleared By Sleeping Judge

A man who was cleared of rape after a complaint that a judge fell asleep at his trial later raped two other young women, a court heard. Lee Woodward subjected two teenage girls to violent attacks almost identical to that described by the woman he was cleared of raping in 2001.

On Wednesday, Woodward was jailed indefinitely by a judge at Gloucester Crown Court, who said he presented “a serious, enduring and deep threat to women”.

Woodward, 27, of no fixed address, stood trial six years ago in the same court. He was accused of raping a 17-year-old near Sharpness, Glos.

However, the defence counsel Chris Austin complained that Judge Gabriel Hutton “nodded off” twice during his closing speech. Mr Austin said that it would be unfair for the trial to continue if the judge had not been paying attention and Judge Hutton agreed to abandon the proceedings.

Woodward was the subject of a retrial before the recorder, Roderick Denyer QC, and was cleared by the second jury.

In 2003, Woodward was arrested again, for allegedly raping an 18-year-old girl on waste ground in the centre of Stroud, Glos in July that year. Police charged him with rape but she felt unable to testify against him and he was formally acquitted.

However, in November last year Woodward struck again, subjecting another 18-year-old-girl to a similar attack after taking her for a walk near a river bank in Gloucester.

He was caught after a dog came across the couple and barked to alert its owner, John Smith. Mr Smith went to investigate and dialled 999. Woodward was arrested at the scene.

On Wednesday, after Woodward changed his plea to guilty, he was sentenced by Judge Jamie Tabor QC to an indefinite prison term, and ordered to serve at least eight-and-a-half years.

Judge Tabor told Woodward he had previously been acquitted of rape “not once but twice”.

On the first occasion, the jury had cleared him. But on the second occasion, in 2003, the judge said he was convinced Woodward had raped his victim, despite the formal acquittal at the time.

He praised the bravery of the victim of the alleged rape in 2003, now 21, for giving evidence against Woodward in the present trial.

He said: “In 2003 the young woman we have seen in the witness box today was raped by you. I have no doubt about that at all. She quite understandably, as a 17-year-old, found it impossible to come to court.”

The judge told the 2003 victim: “I am a man and I don’t pretend to have a great understanding of these things but I do have three daughters and I know it must have taken great courage. You did the right thing, didn’t you?”

The woman replied: “I feel like it now, definitely.”

Judge Hutton was reprimanded by the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine, in July 2002.

A spokesman for the Lord Chancellor said at the time: “The judge has accepted in the face of the evidence that he must have fallen asleep and very much regrets that he did so. He has given an assurance that he will not do so again.”