Tory MP’s aid, 25, who was cleared of rape calls for anonymity for men

Former aid to Tory MP, 24, who was cleared of rape calls for anonymity to be granted to all men accused of sex crimes after allegation against him ‘left his life in tatters’

  • Sam Armstrong, now 26,  wrongly accused of committing rape in October 2016
  • He was suspended as chief of staff to South Thanet Tory MP Craig Mackinlay
  • Argues that his identity should have been protected from the start and only released if he was convicted 

A former Tory MP’s aide cleared of raping a woman in the Houses of Parliament has called for all men accused of sex crimes to be granted anonymity.

Speaking for the first time since he was found not guilty, Sam Armstrong says his life will never be the same again after he was wrongly accused of rape in October 2016.

Then aged 24, he was suspended as chief of staff to South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay and endured 14 months of ‘cruel public shaming’ until he cleared his name.

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Sam Armstrong says his life will never be the same again after he was wrongly accused of rape in 2016

Armstrong worked for South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay (pictured) at the time the accusations were brought against him in October 2016

Yet despite being found not guilty by a jury of all charges last December, he argued his identity should have been protected from the start of the legal process and only have been revealed if he had been convicted. 

Current laws grant victims of rape and sexual offences lifetime anonymity while those accused are named when charged by police.

Supporters of the current law said naming those charged of sex crimes encouraged other victims who may be reluctant to come forward.

But Sam criticised current legislation which he argued could leave the lives of innocent people in tatters.

He said: ‘I was a young person with an exciting career and I had worked hard to get somewhere.

‘I was fortunate enough to work for a fantastic boss in the shape of Craig Mackinlay and I loved the work for Thanet.

‘Overnight all that changed in that a young lady made an allegation against me.

‘It was untrue, it was unfounded and it was malicious and ultimately it was shown to be so.

‘But in the intervening period, because of the extreme press interest in my case, I was slapped straight across the front of a tabloid newspaper within days.

‘An event that I thought was entirely innocent became the most consequential thing in my life.

‘It was very difficult for me to work, it was very difficult for me to sleep – I lost an awful lot in the process.’

Speaking outside court, he said his life had been turned ‘upside down’ by the allegations

Mr Armstrong, pictured with former prime minister David Cameron, denied raping the woman

Now 25, he no longer works for Mr Mackinklay after being accused of forcing himself onto a woman in the MP’s Westminster office.

The pair had been drinking earlier that evening in the Houses of Parliament before having sex.

He was later arrested on suspicion of rape by police at work and said: ‘It felt like someone had punched me in the stomach.

‘In truth, it felt like the walls were crumbling in around me.

‘I was taken into a room, I was forced to remove my clothing and I was subject to very invasive forensic tests.

‘Then I was thrown into a cell and instantly I had a sense that my life was going to be very different from this point moving forwards and there as absolutely nothing I could do about it.’

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Mr Armstrong’s parents Andrew and Amanda have supported him through his ordeal

During his trial at Southwark Crown Court 14 months after the incident the jury heard his accuser had contacted a newspaper.

Text messages revealed she wanted to conceal her medical records which showed she was suffering from depression and anxiety.

He said sex was consensual and was acquitted.

But he added: ‘It was a year in which it was difficult to eat, it was difficult to sleep, it felt like all of my friends, everyone I knew, thought the worst of me.

‘There were people I thought I could rely on who, when the moment came, didn’t want to hear from me, didn’t want to know.

‘And in the intervening period I had to go to court, I had to go to police stations, and when I arrived there were banks of cameras.

‘It was a profound sense of shame.

‘People where I lived looked at me funny.

‘I was subject to a cruel public shaming and the consequences both psychologically and my physical health were overwhelming.

Mr Armstrong’s boss, the Conservative MP for South Thanet Craig Mackinlay, said the verdicts should prompt debate over rape cases

‘It all could have been avoided if it was for anonymity for suspects in cases like this, the same anonymity we extend to accusers. It’s a simple matter of equality.’

Sam said: ‘All of that happened because we have a system at the moment that seems to treat the investigation process as part of the punishment.

‘When an allegation is made people’s lives are essentially put on pause and there can’t be a resolution until the end.

‘Even then, it’s not perfect because many people say there’s no such thing as smoke without fire.’

He added: ‘And anonymity would be such a simple change to make sure that injustice is not waged on anyone that does not deserve it.’

Samuel Armstrong, an MP’s aide, said he could have been wrongly convicted of rape if his defence team hadn’t unearthed key evidence days before his trial 

‘It seems to me entirely fair that that is extended to suspects, that we protect people until we are able to show beyond all reasonable doubt that they were guilty.’

But senior law lecturer Dr Sinéad Ring, from the University of Kent who has written extensively on historical child sex abuse, said naming rape suspects can encourage more victims to come forward.

Dr Ring said: ‘The question of whether to extend anonymity to defendants is a complex one.

‘The defendant is entitled to the full protections of the legal process, including the presumption of innocence.

‘An important advantage of keeping the status quo is that publicising a defendant’s name may alert other victims to the fact that a prosecution is ongoing and this may encourage them to come forward and report themselves.

‘This is really important where a victim may have been coerced into thinking that nobody would believe them or that it was their fault.

‘Granting anonymity to defendants would add further to the stigma and silence around sexual crime that exists in our society.’

Sam agreed and added: ‘Are there going to be cases in which it is appropriate to name suspects? Absolutely.

‘But the presumption should be for anonymity.

‘If the police or the prosecutors want to go to court and say we want to name this suspect because we believe there could be more victims, then that is a perfectly reasonable thing.

‘But they should have to go to court in the same way they have to get a search warrant, to say we wish to name this person, can we do so?

‘It would be an easily managed system and there seems to me to be no good reason at all to resist it.’

According to the Ministry of Justice, one in five rape cases are successfully prosecuted across England and Wales overall. 

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