A woman has been awarded £80,000 in damages in a landmark civil case against a man who had previously been cleared of raping her.
The woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons and is referred to as “Ms M”, sued Stephen Coxen, accusing him of raping her in St Andrews, Fife, after a night out in September 2013.
Coxen, of Bury in Lancashire, denied the charges and in November 2015 a jury acquitted him on a not-proven verdict in a criminal trial.
A civil case, believed to be the first of its kind in Scotland, was raised at the Personal Injury Court in Edinburgh over the incident and Sheriff Robert Weir QC ruled that it was rape, with £80,000 to be paid in damages to the woman.
In his written judgment, Sheriff Weir said: “Mr Di Rollo [the woman’s lawyer] invited me to conclude that the evidence for the pursuer was cogent, compelling and persuasive. I agree with that characterisation of the evidence.
“I therefore determine that at some time between 2am and 2.30am on Saturday September 14 2013, at [the address], the defender took advantage of the pursuer when she was incapable of giving meaningful consent because of the effects of alcohol, that he continued to do so even after she manifested distress and a measure of physical resistance, and that he raped her.
“Accordingly, I shall grant decree against the defender in the agreed sum of £80,000 with judicial interest to run from September 21 2018 until payment.”
Sheriff Weir ruled the woman was drunk, “resulting in a lack of capacity to make free agreement”.
He described her as a “credible and reliable witness”.
The sheriff added: “She gave her evidence in a way which I found convincing on all of the material points.
“At times in her evidence the pursuer became emotional. I found it impossible to conclude that this manifestation of emotion was anything other than a genuine response to the recounting of traumatic events from her recent past, and in particular the night of 13/14 September 2013.
“Her distress was evident and, so far as these things can be judged, seemed to me to be entirely genuine.”
The sheriff said he has “reservations” about Mr Coxen’s evidence in the civil case.
He said: “The paucity of detail in his description of the night actually extended to the circumstances of his arrival in St Andrews, and what he was doing before reaching the Lizard Lounge late on that Friday night.”
Simon Di Rollo QC, who represented the woman during the civil case, said following the ruling: “The pursuer is an extremely courageous woman.
“It is understandable that she found it impossible to come to terms with the verdict of the jury in the criminal proceedings. Although the findings by the sheriff in these civil proceedings are of assistance, there can be no doubt that her experience of the criminal justice system was unsatisfactory.
“Unfortunately, that is not as unusual as it should be. I think that everyone must strive to ensure that, so far as is possible, others in the future do not feel as let down as she did.”
Sandy Brindley, chief executive of Rape Crisis Scotland, said she expected to see more women turning to the civil courts in a “desperate search for justice”.
She said: “This is a landmark judgment, and testament to Ms M’s courage and tenacity in seeking justice.
“While this is a victory for her, she should not have had to go through the ordeal of two trials to search for some form of justice.
“We are aware Ms M feels let down by the criminal justice system. This is a feeling echoed by many, many rape survivors we are working with.
“Unless there are radical improvements to how the Scottish criminal justice system responds to rape, we anticipate seeing more and more women turning to the civil system in a desperate search for justice”.
Last year, Denise Clair, who waived her anonymity, won a civil case against footballers David Goodwillie and David Robertson after the Crown Office chose not to prosecute.
The judge in the civil court found the rapes had happened and awarded Ms Clair £100,000 damages.