Man has conviction for raping 13-year-old girl quashed

11 October 2023, 13:49 | Updated: 11 October 2023, 16:14

Lady Dorrian has quashed the conviction of Sean Hogg for the rape of a 13-year-old girl.
Lady Dorrian has quashed the conviction of Sean Hogg for the rape of a 13-year-old girl. Picture: Alamy

By Gina Davidson

A man who was found guilty of raping a 13-year-old schoolgirl in a park when he was 17 has had his conviction quashed in a “devastating” decision.

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Sean Hogg, 22, was convicted in April of attacking the girl twice in Dalkeith Country Park, Midlothian, in 2018.

It was alleged that Hogg, from Hamilton in South Lanarkshire, attacked her on two occasions between March and June that year.

The case sparked huge controversy as new sentencing guidelines saw him given 270 hours of community service rather than prison because he was under 25 when the alleged rape took place.

During sentencing judge Lord Lake told him that if he had committed the crime when he was over 25, he would have been jailed for four or five years.

But Hogg’s lawyers argued that Lord Lake had misdirected the jury and lodged an immediate appeal.

At an earlier hearing at the Court of Criminal Appeal in Edinburgh, the Crown Office accepted that part of the verdict should be quashed but argued the jury still had enough evidence for Hogg to be convicted of raping the girl on a single occasion.

Today that was rejected and the conviction was overturned.

In her decision Lady Dorrian said Hogg should not have been convicted due to a "insufficiency of evidence".

It was also ruled wrong for Lord Lake to have told jurors that evidence from a man who said the girl had appeared “distressed” following one of the incidents, was corroboration and supported her “credibility” as the prosecution did not ask detailed questions about what had sparked her distress.

In her judgement she wrote: “The direction given by the trial judge was not a mere factual error, such that the jury could have ignored it and proceeded on the view that it referred to the March rather than the June incident, as the Crown submitted. It was a direction in law, albeit an erroneous one for the various reasons we have identified. “We reject entirely the suggestion that it would have been appropriate for the jury to disregard this direction… the result is that the appeal must succeed, and the appellant must be acquitted.

She added: “We should make it clear however that we are satisfied that, but for the error of the trial judge, this would have been the result at trial.”

When the appeal was first lodged, solicitor Aamer Anwar, who represented the complainer, said his client "had told the truth".

He said: "My client in April of this year was left devastated. As far as she is concerned, she came forward. She told the truth. She spoke up. She believes the police and the jury did its duty.”

Today he told LBC his client was "shattered" by the decision.

"She thought she could finally get on with her life, now her grandmother tells me she is completely shattered and they are trying to help her pick up the pieces of her life. This is like a life sentence for her."

On a retrial being ruled out he said: "The Crown has to proceed on the basis of evidence and at this point in time they say they there is an insufficiency of evidence to proceed. But the Crown has not renounced the right to prosecute should new evidence become available - and while she appreciates it, it doesn't help my client today.

"It is clear the trial judge misdirected himself and in turn the jury. The appeal was grounded in the procedural and in fairness and it's the responsibility of the trial judge to to formulate appropriate directions to a jury and in this case the procedure that was adopted was considered to be manifestly unfair and prejudicial."

He said his client also wanted answers about the original sentencing of Hogg and the use of guidelines for under-25s in rape cases, and that she was supportive of the jury in the trial.

As to any other action he said: "It is early days and the my client and her family need time to consider what's happened. The first priority is her wellbeing and mental health and safety. In terms of options on the table are the possibility of a private prosecution and a civil action against this individual but it's early days and will be for her to decide what she wants to do next."

Solicitor General Ruth Charteris KC had previously said the Crown had accepted “mistakes were made at the trial” and today in the wake of the quashing of the whole conviction said it would not be "in the interests of justice to seek a new prosecution."

She said: “I know the complainer's experience of the criminal justice system has been very difficult. I have offered to meet with her and her family if that would be helpful to them.

“The Crown will seek to learn any lessons it can from this case as we continue work to transform the way we prosecute sexual offences.”

Sandy Brindley of Rape Crisis Scotland slammed the outcome as “devastating” for the young girl involved.

She told LBC: “I think this is an absolutely devastating situation. There is a young woman here who has been completely let down by the Scottish criminal justice system. It’s not easy to report rape and go through the processes but this is what she did, and showed bravery and determination in doing that, only to see him walk free based on a judge's misdirection.

“I think this is a really difficult situation to understand, particularly I'm sure for the family - how somebody could be found guilty by a jury of rape only to walk free and for there to be no consequences.”

She added: “We need to be clear that this is a legal technicality he has been cleared on. The judge misdirected the jury. Nobody can say with any confidence if the judge hadn’t misdirected that the jury would have come back with a different verdict. This in no way says the young woman isn’t telling the truth and it’s crucial to be clear about that, this is no reflection on her or the evidence she gave but the judge’s misdirection to the jury.”

Scottish Conservative justice spokesperson, Russell Findley MSP, said: “Yet another female survivor has been badly let down by Scotland's justice system - far too many victims of sexual violence are being failed"

At the time of lodging the appeal Donald Findlay KC, representing Hogg, said: "There has been a miscarriage of justice. What happened was wrong and ended up with a verdict being allowed to stand, which should not have been allowed to stand."