National

Vic caravan rape convictions overturned

By AAP Newswire

Two men jailed for raping a friend at a 21st birthday party have had their convictions overturned after a woman came forward with fresh evidence.

Shaun Bloomfield and Luke Merryfull, both in their 20s, were sentenced to prison last year over the alleged rape of a woman in a caravan at a property in Balmoral, in western Victoria, in April 2016.

A jury found Merryfull had suggested a threesome with the woman and they both raped her. The men, then 21, have always said the sex was consensual.

Bloomfield was jailed for five years and eight months and Merryfull for four years and 10 months.

But Victoria's Court of Appeal quashed those convictions on Thursday and ordered their case return to the County Court for a fresh trial.

The judges found a substantial miscarriage of justice had occurred as a result of new evidence, which was revealed a day after the pair were sentenced.

A mother of a girl at the party told police the following day that on the morning after the alleged rape she asked the girl if she had consented to having sex with them.

She said the girl replied "Luke maybe, but not Shaun".

Prosecutors argued it was implausible that the woman had remembered the conversation just a day after the men were jailed.

But the appeal court heard the woman was unfamiliar with court processes, and she believed the conversation would have been "flushed out" in earlier court hearings.

In their reasons the judges said the two men could not be blamed or held responsible for the fact the new evidence had emerged after their convictions.

In an initial statement to police, at trial and in earlier court hearings the woman gave evidence that the girl told her she had been raped by Merryfull and Bloomfield.

Her fresh claim adds that, when asked about consent, the girl folded her arms, put her head down and said in a low voice "Luke maybe, but not Shaun".

The judges said the original statement was "altered quite fundamentally" by the new information.

They noted that the woman was a nurse in a regional town and must have had extensive experience in stressful environments, and that she conceded she knew the information she had was central to the police investigation.

They also pointed out that the woman knew all of the families and that it would be a serious step for someone in her position to give perjured evidence, adding there was nothing to suggest she was anything but deeply conscientious.

"It is perhaps striking that (she) would lie about (the girl's) account in order to assist Merryfull, but at the same time craft a lie that might harm Bloomfield's interests," the judges said.

Their case will return to the County Court in October. The men are expected to apply for bail.