Yesterday a jury at Southwark Crown Court took less than an hour to acquit Richard Holden of sexual assault. Holden, a former Special Advisor to Sir Michael Fallon, had been accused of groping a woman under her skirt at a party in London in 2016.

Holden has issued the following statement:

“When anyone walks into a police station to make an allegation they have the right to be treated with sympathy and respect. But the police also have a greater duty to pursue the evidence wherever it leads.

“This case was not about consent. What was alleged did not happen. This allegation was supposed to have taken place in a room of fifteen to twenty people, none of whom corroborated the claim.

“Today’s unanimous verdict, delivered by the jury in such as short space of time, attests to my innocence, which I have maintained throughout, as do the Judge’s closing remarks in this case that: “Mr Holden leaves this court without a stain on his character and I hope that he is able to pick up his career where it left off.”

“That this case has been pursued at all is a travesty. It has been a cruel public shaming and an utter waste of time and resources.

“The police and CPS have created a victim of me, and victims of my close friends and family – who have suffered this ordeal at my side for a year and a half. And, most importantly, it has let down the real victims of awful crimes, as the state spent tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of pounds in pursuing a case so readily dismissed by a jury.

“Those of us who work in politics and public life, and who see it as our vocation, do it out of a deeply ingrained sense of duty. A duty to our communities, and to our country, to help others and help square some of the injustices we see.

“I also hope that the serious issues raised concerning disclosure and police investigations into alleged sexual crimes by this and many other recent cases will ensure that the police and CPS reflect and instead use the significant resources at their disposal to get justice rather than pursuing spurious allegations.

“I desperately hope that the assurances I received that following the outcome of this case, that I would again be able to serve the country I love, and the party of which I have been a member for almost twenty years, will be made good on.

“I would like to thank both Eleanor Laws QC, my barrister, and Mark Troman, my solicitor, who are both true credits to their professions.

“As to my friends and family, their love and support, through the darkest of days, often at significant personal sacrifice, has not only maintained my faith in humanity, but has kept me going through the toughest ordeal of my life.

“I hope that the police, CPS and others in authority listen to what I have said, and change their policies accordingly, to ensure that in future, in the pursuit of justice, they don’t create more victims but instead get real victims of terrible crimes the justice they deserve.”

What an extraordinary scandal.

There but for the grace of God go any of us. Someone goes to a party and then faces a false allegation. It could have been me. It could have been you. It happened to be Holden. Despite the groundless nature of the allegation the authorities pursued the matter with vigour and persistence. Holden has been acquitted, but he can hardly be said to have been unpunished. The ordeal has lasted 18 months. His career and reputation have been trashed. The judge hopes Holden can “pick up his career where it left off.” So do I. But it is by no means obvious that it will.

The Times this morning reports:

“The Metropolitan Police declined to comment on Mr Holden’s criticism of its handling of the case and allegations over disclosure.

The Times has exposed widespread disclosure failings in a series of rape trials that collapsed because crucial evidence had been withheld from the defence until the last minute.

The Met Police and Crown Prosecution Service are reviewing all rape and serious sexual offence cases in England and Wales.

Richard Foster, chairman of the Criminal Cases Review Commission, said in February that dozens of innocent people were “very likely” to be in jail because of disclosure failures.”

 The CPS is responsible for assessing the likelihood of a successful prosecution. The speed with which the jury concluded its deliberations means it is baffling on what basis they decided to pursue this case. Was it looked at on its merits and showed sheer incompetence? Or was there a political motive? There could have been a wish to embarrass the Conservatives. Or it could have a kind of subconscious overcompensation – a wish to avoid any perception of being lenient to someone well connected.

I am not quite sure which explanation – politicisation or general impartial uselessness – is worse. Either way, this is the latest case to erode public confidence in the CPS and the police. Greater transparency and accountability is required.