'Year of hell' after false rape claim

BY NICOLA BRENNAN
Last updated 05:00 20/03/2010
Leonard Joseph
PETER DRURY/Waikato Times
STRUGGLING: Leonard Joseph says the stigma surrounding the rape charge has destroyed him.

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A Mangakino man falsely accused of raping a 14-year-old girl says the stigma is something he'll never be able to shake.

Leonard Joseph, 42, is a shattered man. The pain and distress the ordeal have caused him and his family are evident on his face as he relives his "year of hell".

Mr Joseph was last week acquitted at the High Court in Rotorua on all charges relating to the alleged rape of the 14-year-old Mangakino girl in March, 2009. The charges he faced included abduction, forcibly taking a minor and rape.

The jury took just seven minutes to come back with a not guilty verdict following a five-day trial.

His mother, Shirley Joseph, broke down in tears as she described that day.

"I stood by my son 100 per cent all the way through this," she said from her Tokoroa home.

"We have gone to hell and back. I knew he wasn't guilty."

The married father of seven said the charges "destroyed him" and all the work he'd been trying to do for the Mangakino community.

He used to spend five nights a week helping the town's youth by teaching kapa haka, hip hop and rugby league teams through a programme called Slam.

But that life came to an abrupt end when he was arrested and confined to his mother's house on a 24-hour curfew.

After a run-in with his accuser and her family he was remanded in custody. He spent 17 weeks in Waikeria Prison before being released on electronic bail.

"That is just one charge you don't want to go to jail for," Mr Joseph said.

He goes silent for a moment, before describing how he was verbally threatened numerous times and watched as other men around him were beaten and raped.

"Mentally it destroys a person. It almost killed me. I used to be confident. I'm sure it will come back, but it's going to take time. I'm afraid to even walk out on the street; usually I just hide away."

Mr Joseph claimed the girl falsely accused him of rape after the police caught her on her way to Tauranga in a car she had stolen from her parents.

She told police she had to leave Mangakino because Mr Joseph raped her.

"I went through a year of hell. But what kept me sane was knowing that one day I'd get her up on the stand. I couldn't say anything until we got to court."

Not only did Mr Joseph suffer because of the lie, his family was also tainted. Mr Joseph said women should think of the consequences before making such accusations.

"It's not just one man that you are doing this to ... it affects everyone. I wouldn't want any man to go through what I've been through."

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Mr Joseph said he would like to see the girl charged but his barrister Jonathan Temm didn't think it was worth it.

Mr Joseph also had no desire to push for compensation, saying he wanted to put the ordeal behind him.

Mr Temm said the consequences for his client had been "horrific". He said sexual violation cases were not being looked at critically enough before they made it to court.

In Mr Joseph's case the police had written statements from a couple who were asleep in the room at the same time the rape was alleged to have occurred, Mr Temm said.

"So the police knew her version, if not wrong, was at least seriously undermined.

"What happens in these cases is everyone is risk-averse. No-one wants to exercise any discretion as to whether the case will proceed or not."

The officer in charge of the case was not available for comment yesterday.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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