A St Helens man accused of raping a woman after purporting to be a taxi driver has been cleared.
Lee Watson was cleared this week by a Liverpool Crown Court jury after a six-day trial.
The 28-year-old wiped away tears and was shaking after the jury of seven women and five men found him not guilty after four and a half hours deliberation.
He admitted having sex with the 40-year-old woman, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, but said that it had been instigated by her and was consensual.
During the incident her engagement ring fell off in his car and he pleaded guilty to a charge of theft after admitting that he had not handed it into the police or returned it to her.
Lisa Judge, defending, said, “It was a moment of madness in failing to return the ring.”
She also said, “He has faced the trauma of a rape trial and the fear of the obvious sentence if he had been convicted.”
Miss Judge pointed out that he currently has no income but had previously been a hard worker.
After hearing the missing ring, which the woman’s fiance has since replaced, was valued at £400 the judge, Recorder Mark Ainsworth, ordered him to pay £400 compensation within six months.
After the hearing Watson, of Rivington Street, St Helens, declined to comment.
During the the trial the prosecution alleged that Watson had been cruising around Wigan town centre on Friday night December 4 looking for a vulnerable lone woman to pick up while purporting to be a taxi driver.
The woman, who admitted she was very drunk, said he claimed he was a taxi driver, and began molesting her by reaching back from the driver’s seat before taking her to a secluded spot and raping her in the back seat.
However Watson denied her allegations. He disputed pretending to be a cabbie and said he had been driving around looking for a “car meet” of performance cars which he believed was taking place that night.
While driving along he saw her stumble and stopped to see if she was all right. She climbed into the back seat and after telling him she had had a row with her fiance she reached forward and began stroking the back of his head and his arm.
“She said she felt horny. At first I told her to sit back and put her belt on, at this point I wasn’t interested,” he said.
Watson said she did not manage to get her belt on and she reached forward and began touching him intimately and he became aroused.
“She asked if I was horny and if I was willing to go somewhere more private and I agreed.”
He said he drove along Ormskirk Road, Pemberton and took her to a quiet location he knew behind the TSB and she got into the front of his car and sat astride him and they had sex.
Watson said that he went into Liverpool to pick up his wife who was on a night out. He told her he had found a ring and after she became attached to it he was unable to tell her where it had really come from.
He voluntarily went to a police station four days later after Greater Manchester Police issued a press release about the incident.