Jury delivers not proven verdict in sexual assault trial
A 67-year-old man walked free from Lerwick Sheriff Court today [Thursday] after jurors found two sexual assault charges against him were not proven.
The verdict in the trial of John MacLellan, of Glanford Road, Scunthrope, came after a four-day trial presided over by Sheriff Ian Cruickshank.
Fifteen jurors heard from two women accusing MacLellan of sexual assault, viewed footage from the night of the first alleged assault and heard audio recordings of MacLellan discussing the allegation with others.
The accused, who lived in Shetland for more than 40 years before moving to Lincolnshire, denied the charges. The first of the two alleged assaults was said to have taken place in September 2015 at an address in Lerwick, against a woman then aged 18.
The court heard that the woman had been at the address after work and MacLellan was drinking with two others there.
Addressing the court via videolink, the woman described how at one point after everyone else had left the living room, conversation “just stopped” and “he [MacLellan] was just staring at me with this really sinister look”.
The woman said MacLellan had placed his hands inside her jeans and underwear. “I froze in fear”, she said.
The woman also accused MacLellan of attempting to touch her breasts and seizing her hand in an attempt to place it on his genitals.
After what “felt like forever” she made a dash to the bathroom and locked herself in, the complainer said.
It would be three years until the woman disclosed her version of the night’s events.
Asked by procurator fiscal Duncan MacKenzie why she had taken so long to tell others, she said: “I was too scared and embarrassed … I remember thinking I was going to keep this forever, I was never going to come out with it.”
The woman said that years of panic attacks had led her to finally open up about what she alleged had happened.
Two people who had been made aware of the allegation, including the woman who would later accuse MacLellan of the second sexual assault, met him to discuss the accusations. Two covert recordings made by one of the participants were played to the court.
The recordings formed a key part of the Crown’s case with Mr MacKenzie saying that the covert nature of the recording meant MacLellan’s responses could be assumed to be natural.
Mr MacKenzie noted a number of “bizarre exchanges”, including MacLellan offering to apologise to the accuser despite denying he committed the alleged offence and him suggesting that she should not be called a liar.
Pushed on this by Mr MacKenzie, MacLellan replied: “I don’t want to call anybody a liar.”
“Don’t be ridiculous Mr MacLellan,” said Mr MacKenzie. “If someone is telling a blatant lie you call them a liar.”
On the other hand, MacLellan agreed when asked by Mr MacKenzie whether the second accuser was an “outright liar”.
She would have to be a “particularly masterful liar”, Mr MacKenzie contended, given how her story came to light.
A police officer, who gave evidence on the second day of the trial, said that he had interviewed the second woman only as a potential witness to the first incident. But when he spoke with her he felt she was “holding something back”.
When he asked further questions the second woman described an alleged assault in which MacLellan was said to have come up behind her in the kitchen of a Lerwick home following an evening out in July of last year.
She said she was making cocktails and had her back to MacLellan, alleging he lifted her skirt and touched her through her underwear.
Appearing in court via videolink the woman said she had not reported the incident as she did not initially view it as a sexual assault. Instead, she used words such as “stupid”, “drunk” and “inappropriate”.
Defence agent Gregor Kelly, representing MacLellan, questioned whether the second woman had concocted the story in order to corroborate the first allegation.
Mr MacKenzie disputed this, however, saying that the woman would have to be well versed in police procedures and also be an adept actor to make the police officer believe she was holding something back.
Mr MacDonald, who led the investigation, was also asked about two video clips from the evening of the first alleged incident. Mr MacKenzie asked for the policeman’s view of one of the clips and the officer replied that it appeared to show MacLellan leaning in to kiss the teenage woman before she “pulls away”.
Later asked what it looked like to him when he took the witness stand, MacLellan agreed with Mr MacKenzie’s view that the woman appeared to “recoil” from him.
In his closing statement Mr Kelly spoke of a stroke MacLellan had in May 2014 and said that he had since suffered poor sensation in his fingertips and erectile dysfunction, calling into account the first accuser’s description of events.
Mr Kelly urged the jury to give MacLellan the “benefit” of any “reasonable doubts” they had and reiterated his assertion that the second story had been concocted to corroborate the first accusation.
Mr MacKenzie said that if the case had not been proved to “a certainty”, it had been proved “beyond reasonable doubt”.
He also noted that since the accusations were first made people had asked why the accuser in the first case would lie, with “not one answer”.
“There’s a very simple reason”, he added. “She’s telling the truth.”
When the jurors returned to the courtroom on the afternoon of the fourth day they found the accused not proven by majority on the first charge and not proven unanimously on the second.