Every man's nightmare

One terrible lie, and our lives changed forever...

Published by: Amy Thompson
Published on: 31st August 2010

Funny how you can sometimes feel like you know your other half as well as you know yourself. I certainly felt like that.
Me and Warren, 40, had been together seven years. We’d grown up together, lived in the same town, went to the same youth club.
I knew everything about him – even knew when he was fibbing by his blue eyes twitching ever so slightly.
So now, watching him smile politely as I introduced him to my Uncle Ian’s new girlfriend Shannon Taylor, 36, at the social club, I knew instantly what he was thinking – Ian had lost the plot!
‘She seems… nice,’ Warren whispered, as Ian and Shannon wandered over to the bar to get a drink. His eyes tightened a little. Bless him, he was lying!
I stifled a giggle. Clad head to toe in black leather with bleached blonde hair, Shannon was hardly an English rose. Ian had met her in Tenerife a few weeks ago, but none of us had banked on him bringing home this holiday souvenir.
‘As long as he’s happy,’ I shrugged. ‘Besides, it’s New Year’s Eve, at least he’ll have someone to kiss at midnight.’
I gave Warren a squeeze, thinking how lucky I was. I already had a daughter from my previous relationship – Holly, nine – and me and Warren had a son Liam, three.
We’d brought Holly along for the night, while Warren’s mum and dad babysat Liam.
As the night wore on, we had a great time dancing and chatting with friends. By 12.30am, though, poor Holly was worn out.
‘I’d better get her home to bed,’ I told Warren.
‘I’ll come, too,’ he smiled.
‘Don’t be daft, the party’s in full swing,’ I told him. With the long hours he worked as a transport manager, he rarely got a night out. ‘Stay a little longer,’ I insisted.
Warren came stumbling home two hours later…
‘You’re not gonna believe what happened,’ he said, snapping on the light. ‘Shannon was attacked!’
‘You what?’ I mumbled groggily, still half-asleep.
‘She was outside the club having a cigarette when some nutter grabbed her,’ he explained. ‘We found her laying in the street, her nose all bloody…’
‘Is she okay?’ I gasped.
Things like that didn’t happen in our village.
‘An ambulance took her to hospital, but I think she’s all right,’ he sighed. ‘I’m telling you, you’re not walking home without me again, though.’
Snuggling closer to him, I agreed.
Poor Shannon.
The next day, I went to visit her at my Auntie Pauline’s house. ‘How are you feeling?’ I asked.
‘I’ll live,’ she smiled weakly.
I wasn’t there long before police arrived to interview her. Outside, I bumped into Ian getting coffee.
‘What happened?’ I asked him. ‘Did she see who did it? What did he want anyway? Did he take her purse or anything?’
‘Didn’t she tell you?’ he replied. I looked at him blankly.
‘Tanya, she was raped,’ he whispered. ‘That psycho held a knife to her throat, and dragged
her down the street…’
He clenched his fist angrily. I felt sick to my stomach.
Back home, I told Warren.
‘Well, I hope they catch the lunatic who did it,’ he fumed.
Next morning, I’d just got Liam up when a police car pulled up.
‘Must want to ask us, see if we saw anything,’ I told Warren, opening the front door with Liam balanced on my hip.
‘Come in…’ I started. Six policemen barged past me, almost knocking me and Liam to the floor.
What the…? I’d barely had a chance to catch my breath when I saw them grabbing Warren.
‘Mr Blackwell, we’re arresting you on suspicion of sexual assault,’ one officer said, slapping handcuffs on him. Others began turning my home upside down.
‘What are you doing?’ I cried.
‘Looking for the weapon,’ one explained bluntly.
Getting a neighbour to look after the kids, I followed them to the station, where police asked me to give a statement.
‘This is ridiculous,’ I huffed to them. ‘Warren wouldn’t hurt anyone.’
They wouldn’t listen.
‘Speak to Shannon,’ I told them furiously. ‘She’ll tell you it wasn’t him!’ The policemen interviewing me exchanged a look.
‘She’s just identified him as her attacker in a line-up,’ one said.
What?! My blood ran cold. This had to be a sick joke!
Hours later, Warren was released on bail but he wasn’t allowed to contact certain members of my family – they’d be witnesses during his trial.
All I could do was pray it wouldn’t even get to that stage.
Shannon must’ve been in shock, not knowing what she was saying.
The police would soon realise they’d made a mistake.
Not one bit of me believed he was capable of doing what he’d been accused of. I didn’t need to ask him if it was true, and he didn’t ask me if I doubted him.
Not once did his blue eyes twitch. But Warren was charged. It felt like a physical blow.
For 10 months, we waited for his trial to begin. And, as the weeks wore on, we felt more confident.
‘There’s no forensic evidence and no witnesses,’ Warren’s lawyer told us. ‘It’s her word against yours.’
In court, I listened as witnesses were called to the stand. Each of them said they hadn’t seen the attack happen, but no one could account for where Warren had been at the time.
How could they? They’d all been too drunk to notice!
Then Shannon took the stand, her face pale. Haltingly, she told the court how Warren had come up behind her with a knife while she’d stood outside, then dragged her to a dark road nearby before attacking her.
Suddenly, she looked up tearfully, pointing at Warren.
‘You raped me,’ she accused, voice trembling. ‘I’m not here for me, I’m here for the next woman.’
She was certainly putting on a damn good show!
Suddenly, just like in a film, her eyes rolled back and she sank to the floor. She’d actually fainted!
As medics rushed to her side, my jaw dropped. Was she for real?
A few minutes later she was back on her feet, declared fit to continue. The circus continued…
When the foreman stood to deliver the jury’s verdict, I thanked God it’d all be over soon.
Then, one word made my heart stop: ‘Guilty.’
It echoed in my head a million times before it finally sank in. My Warren had been found guilty of rape and sentenced to three years in jail.
I was on my feet in a flash.
‘No!’ I shrieked.
Then my knees buckled and I collapsed to the floor. The courtroom disappeared – it was
my turn to faint.
Next day, I visited him in prison. When I finally saw him in his dark grey shirt, matching all the other inmates, my heart broke. He couldn’t even hold his head up, he was so shocked and depressed.
‘It’s okay,’ I promised. ‘We’re going to get you out, this is all a huge mistake.’
I felt like we’d been sucked into some awful nightmare, clung to the hope that I was about to wake up any minute. But as the days turned into weeks, hope faded.
‘Where’s Daddy?’ Liam asked over and over.
‘Umm, he’s, er, working away building a ship,’ I lied.
When we visited three times a month, Liam would leap into his daddy’s arms – only to be told he wasn’t allowed to sit on his lap.
‘It’s awful,’ Warren whispered. ‘There are all these sick people in here – paedophiles and rapists – they brag about what they’ve done, what they’re going to do… I can’t stand it.’
I fought back tears. Yes, I was living a nightmare, but Warren had been thrown right into hell.
Almost a year passed. Warren appealed against his conviction but, rather than believing he’d been falsely accused, a judge upped his sentence to five years!
Desperate, his dad hired a private detective to do some digging into Shannon’s past.
In the meantime, we tried to keep his spirits up.
No one who knew him believed he was guilty. Even his boss kept his job open for him. But some in the village doubted him.
As the months turned into years and Liam started school, he was soon being singled out by bullies taunting him about his dad. I lost count of the number of times he came home in tears.
Even some of my mates couldn’t handle being associated with us any more, and soon stopped calling.
Every birthday and Christmas was tainted by Warren’s absence. I couldn’t bear to think of him alone in his cell.
Then, two and a half years after Warren was sentenced, the detective we’d hired found out
the truth about
Shannon Taylor.
‘She’s changed her name nine times,’ he told me. ‘And this isn’t the first time she’s accused someone of rape – she accused her own dad and a local boy, too.’
Either she was very unlucky – or a total liar.
He added: ‘She’s got convictions for dishonesty. The police would know if they’d bothered to check her out properly.’
At last, people knew the truth – and Uncle Ian felt terrible for ever believing his ex.
But anger bubbled inside me. All the evidence we had against Shannon had come too late.
We had to wait for anything to be done officially. In the end, Warren served three years and four months behind bars before he was released.
He’d missed Liam’s first day at school, his first footie match,
three birthdays…
We’d never get that time back.
When he got home, he was consumed by bitterness. It took months for him to get used to being able to go to the fridge for a snack whenever he wanted, being able to go for a walk outside…
Nights were broken with flashbacks of the awful things he’d heard in prison.
Some of Holly’s friends couldn’t even come over for her birthday party – their parents didn’t want them playing in the house of a convicted rapist.
We had to clear his name.
It took three more years before Warren’s case went before a review commission.
Then, six years after the whole saga started, in light of Shannon’s history, a judge ruled that Warren had been wrongly convicted of a crime that never took place.
He said Shannon’s injuries had been self-inflicted, and she had a history of mental illness.
Warren was awarded £240,000 in compensation.
But it took Northamptonshire police another three years to apologise for not looking into the case more thoroughly. It was a bittersweet victory – their letter was too little, too late.
Warren should never have been arrested in the first place.
Shannon’s identity, though, was made public by Lord Campbell-Savours in parliament.
She won’t be charged with perjury because prosecutors say she’s too ill, but at least everyone can know the person behind the terrible lies.
Does this mean she could go on to accuse another innocent man right now? We’ll never know. But that woman ripped our world apart and got away with it.
I’m determined not to let her ruin the rest of our lives, though. We’ve stuck together through it all, and I never once doubted my man – I know him better than I know myself. And now, I won’t take a single second of my time with him for granted.
Tanya Blackwell, 39, Woodford Halse, Northampton