A STUDENT has spoken of his relief at the end of his 18-month “nightmare”, having become the third Durham University undergraduate to be cleared of rape in a year.

Alistair Cooke was speaking after learning that the Crown does not intend to seek a re-trial against him on three charges of rape.

The third-year geography student denied the offences, said to have been committed on a woman who has since graduated from the university, at a shared house in Durham, in June, 2015.

A jury failed to reach verdicts on any of the three counts following a fortnight-long trial at Durham Crown Court, last month.

The prosecution was given four weeks to confirm if it would seek to undergo a re-trial.

When the case came before the court today, Paul Cleasby, prosecuting, said: “The Crown has had the opportunity to consider whether to seek to try the outstanding charges and, therefore, offers ‘no evidence’ on those counts.”

He said the complainant had returned to her home, abroad, but, was consulted before the decision was taken.

“She does agree with the decision made by the Crown, after that full consultation.”

Judge Simon Hickey, therefore, recorded formal ‘not guilty’ verdicts on all three counts.

Asked by defence barrister Cathy McCulloch about the defendant’s costs in the case, which are said to be between £3,000 and £5,000, mainly due to travel and accommodation expenditure attending court hearings and the trial, for both him and his family, from Truro in Cornwall, Judge Hickey said an application should be made in writing to the trial judge, Recorder Ian Atherton.

Speaking after the hearing, from which her 22-year-old client was excused from attending, Miss McCulloch said: “He has been informed of the decision and he’s in shock, as is his family.

“They will need time to get over this ordeal they have been through.”

She said it was a big relief for Mr Cooke, and his family, after the 18-month hiatus in his life caused by the inquiry and legal proceedings against him.

Once charged, Mr Cooke was banned from coming to Durham, other than to attend court cases, and his degree studies were, “put on hold”.

Miss McCulloch said: “We are now discussing the possibility of him coming back to finish his degree.”

She said he only had two exams remaining at the end of his final year at the university, when the allegations arose.

Given that it was the third such case against Durham undergraduates to fail to result in a conviction in a year, she said, “not wishing to molly-coddle”, but there should be a wider campaign among the student population over the issue of what constitutes consensual sex, particularly when both parties involved have been drinking heavily.

In a brief statement issued through his solicitor, Jonathan Hanratty, of Chivers Solicitors, in Durham, Mr Cooke said: “This has been a really difficult time for all those involved on all sides. I am delighted this nightmare is now over.

“I am looking forward to trying to piece my life back together.

“Can I also say ‘thank you’ to those who’ve supported me unceasingly and unconditionally over the past years, my parents, brothers, aunts and uncles.

“And, I could not have done this without the excellent professional help and support from Mr Hanratty and Mrs McCulloch.”

Following the decision not to seek a re-trial, Jan Lamping, the Deputy Chief Crown Prosecutor for Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) North-East, said: “In all cases involving sexual offences, the role of the CPS is to assess whether there is sufficient evidence to put before the court and whether it is in the public interest to do so.

“Our role is not to decide whether a defendant is guilty, but to assess whether the evidence in each case merits further scrutiny by an independent jury.

“The jury will then deliver their verdict based on that evidence and the decision of the court must always be respected.”

In previous cases involving Durham students, Louis Richardson, then 21, from St Helier, in Jersey, was found ‘not guilty’ of rape and two counts of sexual assault, following a trial at the court in January, last year., while in July, the Crown dropped proceedings and a formal ‘not guilty’ verdict was returned against 22-year-old George Worrall, from Cromer in Norfolk. He was facing trial on two counts of rape and one of sexual assault.

Durham University made no comment about any of the cases.