Daily Telegraph, 30 June 2017
It’s hard to think of another court case as baffling as that of Gayle Newland. The 27-year-old was convicted yesterday at Manchester crown court of impersonating a man to trick a female friend into sex. When the verdicts were announced, Newland broke
The highly charged atmosphere in the courtroom is understandable. It was the second time Newland had faced a jury, after her original conviction in 2015 was quashed on the grounds that the judge’s summing-up was neither fair nor balanced. Her sentence of eight years was overturned but she has been told to expect a ‘significant immediate custodial sentence’ when she returns to court next month.
“I can’t go back to jail,” Newland cried when she was found guilty of three counts of sexual assault and cleared of another. Reporting restrictions were lifted, allowing the bizarre facts of the case to be reheard in public for a second time.
The first trial had already captured the public imagination. Female sex offenders are rare, especially one who targets another adult woman. The public has old-fashioned ideas about sex offenders, picturing them as seedy men who lie in wait for strangers. A woman who preys on another woman confounds expectations.
The facts of the case are thus: Newland adopted a male persona to seduce a fellow student at Chester University in 2011. She claimed to be a half-Filipino man called Kye Fortune and developed an online relationship with the woman. ‘Kye’ made excuses to explain why they couldn’t meet, claiming he had been ‘badly injured and disfigured’ and had a brain tumour. The complainant accepted these – ‘perhaps naïvely, on reflection’, according to the prosecution.
In a particularly unusual twist, ‘Kye’ told the woman that he had a friend called Gayle, also at Chester University, and the two women became friends. The complainant confided in Newland about her relationship with ‘Kye’ - who eventually agreed to a meeting. In the guise of her fake male persona, Newland laid down a series of conditions, insisting that the complainant wear a blindfold during their encounters because ‘Kye’ was ashamed of his injuries. She proceeded to have sex with the complainant on 10 occasions, wearing a prosthetic penis.
On the final occasion, in June 2013, the woman ripped off her blindfoldand discovered the truth – that ‘Kye’ was in fact her female friend.
Whatever we think about Newland, her behaviour does not fit easily into sentencing guidelines. There is no framework for crimes such as these
If the public is disturbed by the case, the same seems to have also been true of the jury. They brought in majority verdicts and one woman appeared close to tears when Newland broke down.
The prosecution described Newland as a ‘manipulative, deceitful and very crafty young woman’. In her defence, Newland claimed she was a lesbian but had struggled with her sexuality, creating the ‘Kye’ persona to make friends with other young women.
She claimed to have met the complainant at a gay night in a club in Chester, and insisted that she was open about the fact she sometimes pretended to be a man. She claimed that the complainant also had problems acknowledging her sexuality and was embarrassed about being in a relationship with a woman. The victim denied this, insisting on her heterosexuality and describing her shock when she discovered ‘Kye’s’ true identity.
It is not always easy to come out as gay, even in our more enlightened times. But it is also hard to avoid the conclusion that Newland groomed her victim, like any number of online conmen. There are many instances of savvy, intelligent women losing thousands of pounds to men who spent months drawing them into their fantasies, only to discover that the whole ‘relationship’ was a carefully planned fraud. Then there is the scandal of women who were deceived into sexual relationships by undercover police officers.
It may be that the complainant in the Newland case was naïve, but the fact that she was tricked into sex by a woman doesn’t make what happened to her any less distressing. Indeed, one of the most disturbing aspects of the whole case is the treatment of the victim, whose sex life was scrutinised at the retrial as harshly as any rape victim. Intrusive questions were widely thought to have been banned in rape trials and there was widespread shock last year when the footballer Ched Evans, who was cleared of rape, based his defence on the behaviour of the complainant with other men.
It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Newland groomed her victim, like any number of online conmen
Complex and baffling though this case is, in the end it boiled down to an argument around consent. The complainant insisted she did not know that ‘Kye’ was a woman, and the jury believed that she had been the victim of a cruel and elaborate deception.
Yet Newland’s distress is also clearly genuine. As a female sex offender, she should not be treated more severely than a man – the public tends to have more punitive attitudes to women offenders but the law is rightly neutral on such matters.
But anyone convicted in such circumstances can expect to end up with a custodial sentence. What that should be is a matter for debate, given that the case falls so far outside the litany of behaviour normally described in courtrooms.
Whatever we think about Newland, her behaviour does not fit easily into sentencing guidelines. There is no framework for crimes such as these, where an offender is convicted of a physical assault but the crime is more accurately one of deception. Nor can the judge take into account mitigating factors, such as the defendant’s fragile mental state, unless there is evidence of actual mental illness.
Sadly, this appears to be a case involving two vulnerable women. That’s why the outcome is bound to leave a number of troubling questions.