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Rapist who accused victim of same crime named after reporter’s court fight

Sean AxtellA rapist who was granted anonymity after accusing his victim of sexually assaulting him has been named thanks to a weekly newspaper.

Kentish Gazette court reporter Sean Axtell, pictured, has won the right to identify Alistair Hitchock 10 years after he committed his crime.

Hitchock raped his victim in 2012 but she did not report him to the police until 2018.

But in the same year, after becoming “more fearful of the knock on the door”, Hitchcock falsely accused the woman of raping him while her friends pinned him down.

His accusation meant he was automatically granted lifelong anonymity under the Sexual Offences Act 1992, but after investigating his victim, detectives eventually charged him with one count of rape.

His unanimous conviction at Canterbury Crown Court sparked a legal battle between Sean and defence counsel Sarah Elliott KC over the right to lift the order that had protected Hitchock throughout his trial.

Judge Mark Weekes ruled in favour of allowing the Gazette and its KM Group sister website Kent Online to name the rapist after Sean argued in court that public interest outweighed Hitchcock’s right to anonymity.

The application was backed by prosecutor Danny Moore, who told the judge the defendant “is as undeserving of anonymity as anyone might expect given the nature of the case”.

Sean told the court: “Upholding the prohibition would create a world where rapists know they can cry wolf and point fingers at victims, simply to avoid being named in the press.

“If these sorts of prohibitions exist now and in the future the justice system would be, and excuse the vernacular, a madhouse.

“In my respectful submission, Your Honour, the continuation of [the legislation] after conviction isn’t only improper but sets a dangerous precedent.

“So I cordially invite the court to discharge any restrictions designed to prevent Hitchcock from being publicly identified.”

Opposing the application, Ms Elliott argued Hitchock’s identification “should preclude” after the unanimous guilty verdict.

Judge Weekes said there was “very little guidance” in law to help with the “application and interpretation” of discharging the statute, but he ruled in Sean’s favour saying he was “satisfied it would be in the public interest” to discharge the restriction.

Addressing Hitchcock, the judge said: “I am sure that as the years went by you became more fearful of the knock on the door.

“Sadly you chose yet another cowardly option – to lie about what had happened, and to seek to blame falsely entirely innocent people.”

Hitchcock has now been sentenced to seven years in prison after being found guilty on 22 September.

Joe Walker, the KM Group’s senior editor for South and East Kent, told HTFP: “This is yet another reason why you need trusted journalists in court, rather than publishers having to rely on press releases about cases cherry-picked by police forces.

“If we didn’t have a reporter on the press bench at Canterbury Crown Court, the anonymity order would have remained in place and the public would have been none the wiser about Alistair Hitchcock’s horrific crime.

“We hope his brave victim can now find some solace in knowing that the truth about his actions and lies can now be made public.”