We’ve extensively written about and researched the issue of false rape accusation here at HEqual, particularly fatal false rape accusations in the UK and regret to bring readers news of yet another such case.
On Sunday, the Hull Daily Mail reported the news of the inquest into the death of Grant Townsend from Hull. Townsend was aged just 24 when he took his own life and while he clearly had a number of pressures and tragedies in his life, the reporting is commendable in that it makes it clear that a false rape accusation was the main reason for his death, a position echoed by comments form his family. The coroner at the inquest also noted that “the allegation of rape still weighed heavily above him.”
A jury took a mere ten minutes to clear Townsend of rape in 2017 and yet even four years later he clearly hadn’t come to terms with the stigma of being falsely accused.
The Hull Daily Mail deserves particular praise for publishing a second article on Monday concerning the case. The piece, by Anna Riley, highlights the impact of fatal false rape accusations, prominently noting Townsend believed “the title of rapist would never go away” despite being found innocent. Similarly it notes such concerns by Townsend’s friends who state: “his poor man was stuck with the label of being accused even though he was found not guilty it still sticks.” The piece then goes on to feature comments highlighting the urgent need for anonymity of those accused of such crimes and the Hull Daily Mail’s twitter feed even features the comment “RIP Grant” accompanying the story.
The problem with this case is that these two single reports by a small local newspaper are the only such information the media has published about the case. Not a single national outlet has touched the story yet, and of course as per usual the BBC and Guardian have ignored it, despite the clear public service obligations of the former to do so. To make matters worse, the licence fee payer funded BBC Radio office in Hull is a mere stone’s throw from Hull Coroners Court and thus it would have taken reporters literally 90 seconds to travel on foot to report on the story. The BBC Look North Hull TV studio is also located in the same building and thus again a very short walk for reporters.
In addition to the BBC website, we’ve extensively audited the relevant BBC Twitter feeds for possible mentions of the case. The BBC Yorkshire Twitter feed fails to cover the story, and instead managed to mention the death of Peter Lawrence no less than four time. Lawrence was the father of a female murder victim, thus suggesting the even ranks male relatives of deceased females ahead of male victims of fatal false rape accusations.
Similarly, stories that BBC East Yorks and Lincs consider more newsworthy then Townsend’s death include the theft of a couple’s pet dogs, a possible trek to the north pole next year by eleven random women (featuring a woman pulling a tyre around her village) and a baby being born in a hotel car park in Grimsby. Similarly, BBC Radio Humberside emphasises the baby born in a car park and stolen dogs as the key stories far more important than Townsend’s life. Of course we haven’t been able to fully monitor local BBC radio and TV output so it’s possible there’s been a brief mention of the case, however, not a trace of a mention can be found anywhere online so there’s undoubtedly something wrong once again.
Townsend’s story is quite clearly newsworthy by any measure. Not only is there the false rape accusation angle, had the BBC wanted to airbrush that aspect then there’s still the mental health aspect to go with. The case itself shows just how devastating such accusations can be, such an accusation can be horrific for someone with a stable and happy life, and thus for those also attempting to tackle other pressures, the strain must be simply unimaginable. it of course goes without saying that the fatal allegations impact more than Grant himself, with friends and family deeply affected too, and a fund-raiser for his funeral shows he was much loved.
We’ve contacted management at BBC Look North and BBC Radio Humberside to ask them to detail their coverage of this important case and invited them to comment on this piece, we’ll either add any such response to this article or publish a new post where appropriate. The BBC’s lack of coverage and the failings of the rest of the national media have forced us to write this piece to bring attention to the case, and we ask that readers either kindly share this article or the Hull Daily Mail content (or both) so larger publications can pick up the story. Also please be sure to comment below the articles as they all appear to be open for comments.
We should of course note that the Hull Daily Mail’s coverage isn’t perfect. It’s initial article finishes emphasising mental health issues and in our view this emphasis is misplaced. All kinds of people have mental health struggles, even more so today under lock-down. The real solution here is for people to be able to battle such issues with all their energy and determination and do so free from horrific acts such as false rape accusation and the stigma that comes from them. Had Mr Townsend not been falsely accused of rape he would clearly still be with us today, with or without support for his mental health.
If you enjoy reading HEqual and the work we do please consider making a donation so we can continue promoting equality and tackling discrimination.