Lotto rapist victim Shirley Woodman - who changed the law of limitations with our help - speaks to Joanna Wardill in the YEP’s 125th anniversary year about the value of local press and how we were the catalyst behind her fight for justice.
It was a story that united the nation in horror.
When Leeds rapist Iorworth Hoare bought a winning lottery ticket while on day release from prison, scooping £7m, the news sparked widespread outrage when newspapers across the country - including the YEP - splashed it across their front pages in August 2004.
But hardest hit was his victim, retired teacher Shirley Woodman - known only at the time as ‘Mrs A’.
Hoare was jailed for life in 1989 for the attempt rape of Mrs Woodman, then 59, in Roundhay Park in 1988. At the time of the attack, he had previous convictions for rape, two further attempt rapes and three indecent assaults.
Mrs Woodman sued Hoare for damages when she heard of his win but, using the law of limitations, he argued that victims of sex attacks must make their claims within six years.
However in 2008, she won a groundbreaking ruling from the Law Lords that, in cases of serious assault, courts would have the discretion to extend that limit. It was a ruling that opened the doors to allow victims of historical abuse to claim damages - such as those of Jimmy Savile.
Today, Mrs Woodman, now 86, - who waived her anonymity when she received an MBE in 2012 - speaks about her incredible quest for justice and how the YEP played an integral part. She said: “I don’t mind the publicity now because it’s positive. It was a good ending. The good ending didn’t annihilate what had happened before but something good came out of it which has benefited other people. It wasn’t just a personal victory - the law was changed. And I feel so strongly about the part the YEP played in it.”
Only a handful of Mrs Woodman’s friends and family knew she was ‘Mrs A’ during the trial. But it was later one of that inner circle who first broke the news to her of Hoare’s lotto win in an emotional phone call. She recalled: “That was worse then the aftermath of the actual attack. I was so upset - shattered, bewildered and frightened. From that point on, I just closed the door and wouldn’t go out. I was absolutely terrified. Now he’d won £7m he could afford to find me. He knew it was me that put him in prison for life.”
However, in the ensuing newspaper coverage, an opinion piece by YEP features editor at the time, Anne Pickles, caught Mrs Woodman’s eye for so closely echoing her views - that he should be made to pay. It sparked a desire for justice and triggered what went on to become a productive relationship.
The great-grandmother said: “There were lots of letters saying this man should not be allowed to keep the money. Then Anne Pickles wrote her fantastic article. She was saying the very things I’d been saying to my family - about all this money going to him when his victims had been left with mental and probably medical problems.”
After making contact with Anne, a “little conference” was held at Mrs Woodman’s home - with the YEP, the YEP’s legal team DLA Piper, a police officer and a solicitor for West Yorkshire Police - where all agreed to try and change the law of limitations.
With the YEP and DLA Piper agreeing to foot the bill if the case was lost, a four-year fight began.
She said: “I knew I wanted to change the situation - it seemed ridiculous. The fact that he had hurt so many people in his life and yet he was a very rich man and not attempting to do anything to ameliorate his past. At that point it was 99 to one against but we were willing to try. I was hopeful, as we all were. We had to bring it to the notice of the general population and the legal profession and to the law lords.
“This anomoly was denying people the chance to assert their rights.”
But the outcome initially looked very bleak, with their case getting rebuffed by a string of courts before the group ultimately took it to the European Courts of Justice - and won. Mrs Woodman, who had secretly sat through every case, said: “We waited until the court emptied and went into the corridor and just jumped and hugged. It was just wonderful.”
She said: “Without the YEP I couldn’t have done it. The article that Anne Pickles wrote was the catalyst which set off a process which finally resulted in a change in the law.
“That’s probably one of the most important things the YEP has done.”
Mrs Woodman, who lives in a rented flat, went on to receive an out-of-court settlement from Hoare - “tainted money”, she said - which she gave away to charity.
She said: “It was a journey but it ended well and just in time for the Savile victims and these victims of the entertainers who have all been pulled out of the woodwork.
“Every time I hear of someone who’s taken someone to court, I go ‘yes, another one!’ [punches the air]. That’s how I feel.”