The old woman sat up and turned on her bedside light, she had never been a heavy sleeper, and even the slightest noise could disturb her. She thought she had heard a bang in the distance, but it was probably only a car backfiring. She wasn’t likely to be murdered in her bed inside this gated community.
She looked down at her husband where he lay sleeping, and smiled. Although he was 9 years her junior, he had obviously not married her for her money. True, she did have a fat pension, but Harold had made a lot of money during the crash, much of which had been salted away in a scheme masterminded by her first husband. That was how they had met all those years ago. After Neil died suddenly, Harold had been a tower of strength, and although it hadn’t been a whirlwind romance, things had moved very quickly. Her sons hadn’t approved at the time, but they had grown to like him.
Alison Hughes smiled to herself and caressed his head. Today was her 85th birthday; she was indeed lucky to have found love again so late in life, and although she realised she didn’t have that much time left, she would cherish every minute of it. Then she heard the banging downstairs, it sounded like someone trying to force their way in. Then she heard the shout: “Armed police!”
For a second she thought she was dreaming, but only for a second, then she heard heavy boots thudding up the stairs, and as Harold stirred from his slumber and she faced the door, it swung open, the light switch was flicked on, and she found herself staring down the muzzle of a high powered gun.
“Armed police, don’t move!”
Harold sat up suddenly in bed.
“What is the meaning of this?” demanded Alison.
Suddenly, not one but two guns were pointing straight at her.
“Alison Hughes?” came a voice.
Another officer entered the room, turned her around heavily, and twisting her arms behind her back, handcuffed her so.
She cried out in pain, “What is the meaning of this?” she asked.
Two more officers entered the room, suits this time, one of them reached inside his jacket and pulled out a piece of paper handing it to Harold where he sat in their marital bed, confused. Then turning to Alison he said, “Alison Hughes, you are under arrest under the 2035 Sexual Offences Act”.
She and Harold gasped in unison: “You do not have to say anything. But it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence.”
The arresting officer paused momentarily, but Alison was too shocked to say anything further.
Then as the old woman was led away still in her night dress, three more men entered the room. One was carrying a camera and was videoing everything; all three were wearing protective suits. One of the detectives took Harold by the arm, but his grip was noticeably lighter than that used on his wife.
“Come”, he said, “you can’t stay here; there is a car outside to take you to your daughter’s house”.
“My daughter?” he said, even more confused.
“Put on your dressing gown and go with the policewoman; we’ll sort out some clothes and things for you in an hour or two.”
Outside the door stood a uniformed policewoman who held out her hand to him almost kindly.
“Why can’t I stay here?” Harold asked.
“This is a crime scene”, came the reply.
“A crime scene?” he asked, perplexed.
“Potential crime scene”, said the other detective.
Harold allowed himself to be led away as his wife was driven off at high speed to an unnamed police interrogation unit in Central London.
When they arrived, Alison was led still in handcuffs to a special underground suite, processed, told to change into a thin cloth suit, then taken to a slightly less uncomfortable interrogation room. It was only then, after the video was turned on, that she learned why she had been arrested.
After she had confirmed her name and address for the third time, she was told gravely by the detective chief superintendent in charge of her case: “You have been accused of rape, Mrs Hughes”, Alison was in the process of sitting down, but nearly fell down all the same.
“Rape?” she said, “is this some sort of sick joke?”
“Before we go any further, I think you should have a lawyer. Do you want a lawyer? If you have one, we can phone him, or you can see the duty solicitor.”
Alison nearly told him she was a lawyer, but obviously he knew that, and she didn’t want him making any snide remarks about her being retired.
“No, I don’t need a lawyer,” she said, “if this isn’t some kind of sick joke, it is obviously a misunderstanding. In case you didn’t notice, I’m a woman”.
The officer was unimpressed, “You are also a lawyer, or you were one until you retired, a very senior one, so I needn’t tell you that you don’t actually have to rape a woman to be convicted of rape anymore than you need to actually shoot a man to be convicted of murder, not if you give the order.”
“Am I accused of ordering someone to rape a woman?” she asked in disgust, then an even more terrible thought sprung into her head, “not my sons?”
“No,” he replied, “your husband.”
“Harold!?” she was horrified, but before she could say anything else, he cut her off.
“No, your first husband.”
“Neil, but he’s been dead nearly twenty years”.
“Are you sure you don’t want the duty solicitor?” he asked.
“No. Yes, I mean no, I don’t need a solicitor, I’ve done nothing wrong.”
“Then we’ll begin,” he said, and turning his back, closed the door on her, leaving her alone and perplexed.
It was ten minutes before he returned with three more detectives, one of them a woman.
When the recording equipment had been set up and they had gone through the formalities, she finally learned what she was being accused of.
“Mrs Hughes, do you know a woman named Riya Patel?”
Alison didn’t, or didn’t think she did, so replied “No” instantly.
“I put it to you that you do know Riya Patel?”
“I suggest in 2017 you were working with Riya Patel”.
“Under me?” she asked.
“She would hardly have been your senior,” said the female detective, acidly.
“I don’t know. There were dozens of people working in that office, men and women”.
“But they were all under your control”.
“No, not direct control. I was in charge yes, but there was a line of command. I can’t be expected to remember everyone I worked with nearly thirty years ago.”
“Riya Patel is married now, there is no need for you to know her married name.”
“What has she to do with this?”
“According to Riya Patel, your husband raped her at your office while you held her down.”
Alison nearly pinched herself, but she realised insane as this was, it was no dream.
“At my office?”
“My first husband did not work at my office; he was a barrister.”
“We know that,” interjected the female detective again, “but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t have come to your office”.
“And raped one of my staff?”
“Well, couldn’t he?”
“Access to the building was controlled”, she said, almost smiling.
“By you, the woman in charge”, the female detective smirked back.
“I see. And when exactly did this rape happen?”
“You mean you admit it happened?” said the female detective.
“No, of course not”.
“I see, that was not a Freudian slip, then?”
“No”. This woman was a particularly nasty individual, Alison thought, then she thought how people had once said exactly the same thing about her, and what was the response she had inevitably used?
I’m only doing my job.
“When is it alleged to have happened?”
“What date in 2017”.
“The victim is unable to give a definite date.”
“I see. And what were all the other staff doing at the time I was holding down this woman while my husband raped her?”
Yet again, the female detective spoke: “This is not a joke, Mrs Hughes, you are in serious trouble.”
“I don’t doubt it, accused of abetting a rape on an unspecified date thirty years ago by a mad Asian woman”.
“We didn’t tell you she was Asian,” said the woman detective again, with a half triumphant smile.
“Oh please”, said Alison, “what is she with that name, Icelandic?”
“Do I detect a strand of racism there, Mrs Hughes?” asked a male voice this time?
Then the inevitable female voice, “Is that why you helped your husband rape her, because you want to see Asian women kept in their place?”
“This is insane, I can’t remember who this woman is, and I have certainly never aided and abetted raping her or anyone.”
“Are you saying she is lying?”
“Lying or mad.”
“So you don’t believe the victim now?” said the female voice, “not like you once said people should?”
“She isn’t a victim. Why would she wait thirty years to accuse me?”
“A rape survivor can disclose her abuse at any time”, said a male voice again, “don’t you remember saying that?”
“I’ll give you a citation”, said the female voice, acidly, “Speech at the Mansion House, October 12, 2018. Do you remember now?”
And so it went on for the next four hours, relentless questioning, badgering and harassment until Alison had had enough. Fortunately, so had the police. Realising they would make no progress with this old, tired woman, they left her to stew. Two hours later the senior officer returned, “Mrs Hughes, come with me”, he snapped as he opened the door.
Alison was led to the counter and feared for one moment she was going to be charged. She heaved a barely perceptible sign of relief when she was told she was being bailed pending further inquiries. She was still wearing a paper suit, although a female officer had at least had the decency to give her some underwear and thick socks.
“Your sons have arranged transport for you” came a familiar female voice from behind.
“I’ll escort you to it” said her male companion.
Alison was able to manage a strangled “Thank you”, and, after signing for her property she was led to the back entrance. Deep in self-absorption, she looked up to a virtual sea of cameras snapping at her from all directions as the security gate opened. She turned and looked up at the senior officer, who was smiling to himself. Looking down at Alison he said: “We thought the publicity might encourage other victims to come forward”.
“Other victims?” she said as reporters’ voices came at her from all directions.
“Yeah, just like you did all those years ago for Operation Yewtree.
Alison opened her mouth, but was speechless as she walked through the gate towards the waiting taxi and was driven off still bewildered fending off all questions with the stock phrase “No comment”.
“You think other victims will come forward?” said the female detective to her boss.
“Hard to tell, but I’ll wager there are a few Rolf Harris fans left around who wouldn’t mind seeing the odious Alison Saunders behind bars”.
“Rolf who, sir?”
“A bit before your time, Cheryl”, he said, whistling Tie Me Kangeroo Down, Sport under his breath as they walked back into the building.
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