A drama student who was jailed for five years in 1998 for the rape of a young actress has been freed after his conviction was quashed by the Court of Appeal.
James Reith, 29, said yesterday that he suffered several violent assaults during the 23 months he spent in six prisons and often feared for his life. He said he was bullied and attacked by prison officers and was considering suing for compensation.
His highly publicised case became known as the “Last Tango in Paris rape” after an Old Bailey trial was told that he had tried to persuade the 18-year-old actress to recreate an erotic scene from the 1972 Marlon Brando film. When the woman refused, he was alleged to have handcuffed her and banged her head on the floor before raping her twice.
Mr Reith always claimed that the woman, who attended the same drama school, had consented to sex. He was convicted after the jury heard prosecution claims that injuries to the woman’s wrists and mouth indicated that she had been forced to have sex.
At the end of the trial, the Old Bailey was told that Mr Reith had previous minor convictions for drugs and public order offences. He had also been convicted of indecent assault after fondling a woman in the street, for which he was given a 12-month conditional discharge.
The rape conviction was quashed by three Appeal Court judges this month after they were told that a key witness had not been available for cross-examination at the trial. Mr Reith, who ran away from home at 16 after discovering that he was illegitimate, said he had been released from prison without compensation or assistance in finding work or housing.
Steven Bird, the solicitor who secured his appeal, said it was unlikely that his client would be eligible for mandatory compensation under Home Office rules, although he could possibly receive an ex gratia payment. Mr Reith, who was freed on April 7, said: “It is incredible that you can just be taken off the streets and imprisoned and then thrown back out again with nothing.
“There are organisations and help for the rehabilitation of ex-offenders, but I am not an ex-offender. I have had no immediate support for housing or finding a job.” He said the conviction had “destroyed” his life. He had lost his girlfriend and a music recording contract. He intends to try to pursue a career as a singer.
He said: “Although I was a convicted sex offender, I never accepted segregation or special protection because I was innocent. To be branded a rapist is the most horrifying label to have attached to you. I thought about suicide several times, but did not do it because people might think it was an admission of shame or guilt.”