Jury discharged in UK rape case of Australian cricketer Alex Hepburn

A jury has been discharged after failing to reach a verdict in the high-profile rape trial of an Australian cricketer in England.

Alex Hepburn, 23, was charged with two counts of rape following an April 2017 incident at a flat in Worcester, in the West Midlands region, north-west of London.

Possible retrial: Australian cricketer Alex Hepburn arrives to court in Worcester this week.Credit:Andrew Matthews/PA

He was accused of raping a woman in his teammate Joe Clarke's bed after Mr Clarke went to the bathroom to be sick and fell asleep. Mr Hepburn maintains the sex was consensual.

This week, a five-day trial at Worcester crown court was told the woman met Mr Clarke at a nightclub and returned to his home to have consensual sex with him.

The woman then woke up to find a sex act being performed on her, the court was told, and thought she was again having sex with Mr Clarke until the man in the bed spoke with an Australian accent.

The court heard the woman pushed Mr Hepburn away, telling him "you just raped me you sick bastard," before she fled the home and was found sobbing on the street by a passer-by who called emergency services.

A jury deliberated for nine hours but could not come to a verdict.Credit:Ben Birchall/PA

A jury of eight women and four men deliberated for just over nine hours but failed to reach a majority verdict, so were discharged by judge Jim Tindal on Friday afternoon UK time. The prosecution has two weeks to decide if it will pursue a retrial.

The case has attracted significant international media attention, with a packed press gallery inside court for each day of the trial as cameras waited for Mr Hepburn outside.

Mr Hepburn, originally from Perth, moved to England in 2013 to play cricket.Credit:Worcestershire County Cricket Club

A key aspect of the prosecution case centred around exchanges on messaging platform WhatsApp, where Mr Hepburn, Mr Clarke and another man detailed their sexual conquests in a "game".

The game was also played the previous season, with Mr Clarke winning and Mr Hepburn coming second.

Prosecutor Miranda Moore, QC, said the "stat chat" messaging group – which first exchanged messages several days before the alleged rape – was used to keep track of how many women each member slept with.

Jurors were told women were referred to as "freshies" or "reheats", indicating whether the members had slept with them before, and there was discussion about rating the women out of 10. The eventual winner of the competition was to get a night out, paid for by the other members.

In cross-examination, Ms Moore asked Mr Hepburn if he was so "fired up" by the "game" that he took advantage of the victim, who he knew was asleep.

"Not true," Mr Hepburn said.

He said the game was "nothing more than just immature chat between friends" and he was "completely embarrassed" that the messages had been seen by his family.

Mr Hepburn said he had previously arranged to sleep in his friend's bed and only realised the woman was also in the dark room after he climbed into bed without any clothes on. The woman opened her eyes and kissed him, he said, before they had consensual sex for about 20 minutes.

The woman, who cannot be named, gave evidence from behind a curtain during the trial and at one stage had to take a break after she started sobbing.

In a police interview played to the court, the woman said "panic set in" when she realised a different man was in the bed, and she shoved him away from her.

She said she locked herself in a bathroom while she called her housemate, and told Hepburn he was a "sick bastard" before she left to find Mr Clarke.

Mr Clarke gave evidence that he left his bedroom to be sick after having consensual sex with the woman. He said the next thing he remembered was being woken by the woman in the bathroom, who told him she had been raped by Mr Hepburn. He was "very shocked", he told the court.

Asked if Mr Hepburn was still his best friend, Mr Clarke responded: "Yes."

During his summing-up, Judge Tindal said Mr Hepburn posted the rules to the WhatsApp "game" to the group five days before the alleged rape.

"It was effectively a competition – and I regret to use this word, but it seems to be accurate – to 'collect' as many sexual conquests as possible," Judge Tindal said.

"It's about 'collecting' new girls – to them, 'freshies', as they put it."

Addressing the jury during the trial, Ms Moore said the WhatsApp game could help to explain Mr Hepburn's alleged actions.

"He saw that girl asleep in the bed and decided to take advantage," she said.

Defence barrister Michelle Heeley, QC, had urged the jury to deliver a not guilty verdict, saying the case was "one person's word against another".

Mr Hepburn, who was born in Western Australia, moved to England in 2013 to pursue cricket opportunities.

If a retrial is ordered, it will commence in April.

with Wires

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