A note to the reader: The following article contains a description of sexual assault which may be upsetting to some.
On Friday 5 October, a Scottish civil court ruled that a man raped a former student of the University of St Andrews in the early hours of 14 September 2013.
The attacker, Stephen Coxen, was ordered to pay his victim known only as Miss M £80,000 in damages.
Mr Coxen was not a student at the University, but was visiting a childhood friend who was a St Andrews student at the time. Mr Coxen is originally from the Manchester area.
Mr Coxen was prosecuted in criminal court in 2015. However the charges of rape were found ‘not proven’.
The controversial verdict in Scotland is not applicable to the rest of the UK. By finding the claims against the defendant ‘not proven’, the accused can be acquitted without a court determining whether or not they are guilty.
The result of the civil proceeding is significant as it is the first time in recent Scottish legal history that a defender has been cleared in a criminal court but sued in a civil court.
The attack took place on Saturday 14 September 2013 after Miss M and Mr Coxen met at the Lizard Lounge in St Andrews. The following article is a in-depth look at the court documents surrounding the case:
Prior to the incident, Miss M had returned to complete her second year studying psychology at the University. Having spent her first year in halls of residence, she had now moved into a flat with two friends in St Andrews.
On the evening of September 13 Miss M went to a friends house en route to a flat warming party on Lade Braes. Prior to this, she had picked up four cans of cider and a bottle of rose, her habitual drinks of choice.
Before arriving at her friend’s house she had consumed some cider. When the friends made it to the party, Miss M drank the remainder of her cider, a bottle of rosé wine, vodka and champagne.
A record of how much alcohol Miss M consumed would later become relevant to the question of her ability to give consent in the civil court.
Miss M’s friend asserted that they left the party between 10-10:30 pm and made their way to the University of St Andrews Students’ Association. Upon Miss M’s arrival at the Union, it became apparent how intoxicated she was.
Whilst attempting to gain entry to the building, Miss M had thrown items out of her purse onto the ground in order to find her student ID. This had attracted the attention of security who asked her friend to ensure that she consumed no more alcohol inside the building.
After Miss M was seen throwing items out of her purse, a friend took the item from her for safekeeping.
After about 15-20 minutes spent in the Union, the group moved to the Lizard Lounge a short distance away on North Street. The court heard that the pursuer was so drunk that she was stumbling and required assistance walking to the venue where she met Mr Coxen. Mr Coxen had been ejected from the Lizard Lounge prior to the 2 am closing time over a dispute with other patrons. He was waiting for his friends outside when he saw Ms M and offered to walk her home.
Mr Coxen asserted that to his recollection Miss M did not have difficulty walking back to her flat. However, under cross-examination he admitted that she was “a bit unsteady on her feet.”
Miss M asserted that she did not fully recall the walk home to her flat, and presumed that she was in the company of a friend. It was not until the pair arrived outside her front door, that she realised that she did not recognise the man who had walked her home.
She had attempted to press the buzzer for the gate on her flat in order to rouse her flatmates, to no avail. Miss M said that she observed the man getting frustrated about their inability to gain entry to the building.
Whilst outside Miss M dropped her keys. When she attempted to pick them up, Mr Coxen pushed her hand out of the way in order to retrieve them. He then unlocked the gate and used the keys to gain entry to the flat. The court documents indicate that this is when Mr Coxen raped Miss M.
Miss M alleged that Mr Coxen had forced her to perform oral sex upon him causing damage to her tongue. The defender disputed that this took place and asserted that they only engaged in consensual vaginal sex.
Miss M said that after the assault ended, she realised there was blood on her and across the mattress and nearby window sill. She said Coxen remarked, “What the fuck, that’s disgusting.”
The defender then proceeded to get dressed, small change falling out of his pockets as he left abruptly. Mr Coxen said that he believed the blood was a result of having intercourse with Miss M whilst she was on her period.
He described feeling “kind of grossed out” by what he had seen, and asserted his action in leaving, in the way he did, was immature, stupid and rude. It was something he stated that he regretted, and for which he subsequently apologised for.
Following the assault, Mr Coxen had retained possession of Miss M’s mobile phone. Both the defender and the pursuer were unable to recall exactly how it came into his possession. Miss M did not recall much of her assailant afterwards, only that he had a Mancunian accent.
Later on September 14 following the assault, Miss M went to a pharmacist to collect contraceptives. During collection, she filled out a pro forma which queried whether there had been sexual assault; the response was negative.
After this, Miss M was late attending her slot at a stall at the Sports Fayre the following day. When she arrived at the Fayre she was observed crying, red-faced from crying and at times unable to speak. Later that afternoon, Mr Coxen’s friend returned the phone to Miss M. The defender was embarrassed about what happened the night before and did not want to see her. When Miss M queried where the friend had acquired the phone, he replied that he had been given it by his friend from Manchester.
In November, Miss M moved out of her flat in which the assault had happened. Since the night of September 13/14 she had been unable to sleep in her room and had resorted to sleeping in the living room.
It wasn’t until January 2014 that Miss M reported the incident to the Police
On 24 October 2013 Miss M attended her GP. The note of that attendance is in the following: “Sexually assaulted 13/9/13. Was very drunk and can’t recall events well. Can remember he had a Manchester accent but little else…”
It wasn’t until January 2014 that Miss M reported the incident to Police Scotland.
Mr Coxen recalled being made aware of the allegation in early 2014. He was then detained in his hometown of Bury and transported to Scotland to await trial.
When asked under cross-examination why the pursuer may be upset over the incident, he prescribed this to this remarks following intercourse, in particular his comment “that’s fucking disgusting; I thought you were alright”.
As aforementioned, the subsequent High Court trial in late 2015 resulted in a verdict of “not proven” on the statutory charge of sexual assault and rape against Mr Coxen. This then led to the civil case against him.
The civil action was heard at the Personal Injury Court in Edinburgh by Sheriff Robert QC Weir. Due to its legal significance, the case was paid for by the Scottish Legal Aid Board through a special fund set up to support cases of gender-based violence.
Miss M still suffers symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the incident and received counselling and support from the University’s Student Services between 2014 and 2016.
Evidence was provided over the course of eight days between 12 and 22 June 2018.
Much of the evidence provided by experts centered around the alcohol intake of Miss M, and whether this would render her too intoxicated to consent. Two psychiatrists were consulted throughout the proceedings, with both agreeing that Miss M was suffering from PTSD. Their only main contradiction was over the time it may take Miss M to recover from her experiences once the matter was resolved.
The emotional impact of the events of the early hours of September 14 were such that Miss M subsequently had to complete her second year over two academic sessions.
The defender’s position in cross examination was that Miss M had lied about the incident and thus this lie had been perpetuated in discussion with family and friends.
Describing the chain of events to the court, Miss M’s brother said that he had observed a complete change in his sister following September 2013. He asserted that prior he had regarded her as “a sister and a kid”.
In 2016-17, only 39 per cent of rape cases in Scotland resulted in conviction
A psychiatrist described the Miss M’s presentation as typical of that of a trauma survivor, and that her PTSD symptoms remained florid and unabated.
To understand the significance of the ruling, it must be noted that in 2016-17 only 39 per cent of rape and attempted rape cases in Scotland resulted in conviction. Nearly 30 per cent of these cases result in the verdict of ‘not proven’ and thus an acquittal. This stands in stark contrast to other criminal cases in which the ‘not proven’ rate is roughly 17 per cent.
On the matter of Miss M moving house in November 2013, Sheriff Robert QC Weir said that, “the occurrence of the assault would have provided a cogent reason for why the pursuer may have wished to move. I believed her explanation for why she did so.”
In his final judgement Sheriff Robert QC Weir asserted, “ I have concluded that the pursuer was so intoxicated as to be unable to give free agreement to sexual intercourse.”
“I therefore determine that at some time between 2.00 and 2.30am on Saturday 14 September 2013, at [Miss M’s former flat], St Andrews, 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 21 September 2018 until payment.”
On the verdict, a spokesperson for the University said, “Our Student Services team has provided continuing practical and pastoral support to Miss M, initially as a student and latterly after she graduated and became a member of staff at St Andrews. It has been an understandably difficult case which had a major bearing on her wellbeing and future plans, and we are very pleased for her that it has now reached a conclusion.”
University led advice and support can be found at: