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20

Fact or fantasy?

The case of David Bryant highlights the dangers of uncorroborated victim testimony in historic sex

offences, write Rupert Butler and Rachael Earle

O

n 20 July 2016 the Court of Appeal

quashed the conviction of David

Bryant, a retired decorated fire

officer, two and a half years into

an eight-and-a-half-year prison sentence

for buggery of a boy in the 1970s. While Mr

Bryant’s remarkable tale has a happy ending,

his case shines a disturbing light on the

incompetence of our criminal justice system

to sift fact from fantasy during shoot-outs

between alleged victims and perpetrators

following an uncorroborated complaint of

historic sex abuse.

In October 2012 David and Lynn Bryant

were at home in Christchurch when a

handwritten note was dropped through their

letterbox making an unspecified allegation

about an event in 1976. It had all the hallmarks

of blackmail and so they called the Dorset

Police for help.

Shortly afterwards, the police told Mr

Bryant that the author of the note, Danny Day,

had complained he had been violently sexually

assaulted in the Christchurch Fire Station by

two firemen, one of whom was deceased, the

other being Mr Bryant. It transpired that Day

had worked briefly one summer collecting

glasses in the local British Legion Club

where Mr Bryant and other Christchurch

firemen drank.

Mr Bryant was interviewed under caution

and denied any knowledge of an assault.

Naturally, he could not provide an alibi for an

event 35 years ago that was said to have taken

place anytime between 1976 and 1978. Oddly,

the police asked Mr Bryant if he could think

of a reason why Day should make it all up.

While it should not have been Mr Bryant’s job

to disprove the allegation, had he, or Dorset

Police, known Day’s medical history they

would have had their answer. While Dorset

Police have protested that they carried out a

thorough investigation, it appears that did not

include checking Day’s medical records.

To his astonishment, Mr Bryant was

charged. The case came to trial in December

PRACTICE AREA

PRO BONO PROFILE

160/36 Bar Focus

Rupert Butler, pictured, and Rachael

Earle are barristers at 3 Hare

Court. With Peter Knox QC, they

represented David Bryant pro bono

@3HareCourt

www.3harecourt.com