Woman sued by tattoo artist 'attacker' felt burning sense of injustice

Nina Cresswell won a libel case after being sued by the man she claims sexually assaulted her at a nightclub ten years ago.

A woman sued by a Glasgow tattoo artist who she claims sexually assaulted her says she felt empowered to tell her story as a result of high-profile figures brought to justice during the #MeToo movement.

Nina Cresswell, 33, of County Durham, posted online that Billy Hay violently attacked her in Sunderland after they met in a nightclub in 2010.

Hay, from Glasgow, subsequently launched legal action claiming her allegations were untrue.

He said the “publications” caused him “great embarrassment, distress and damage to his reputation” and wanted damages.

Following a hearing in February, a High Court judge ruled earlier this month that Ms Cresswell’s account was substantially true and publicising it was in the public interest.

Mrs Justice Heather Williams reached her finding on the “balance of probabilities”, the lower standard of proof in civil cases.

Northumbria Police has said it is now reinvestigating the case.

Ms Cresswell, who has waived her right to anonymity, welcomed the decision but said she was suspicious about the police’s motives.

“It is a positive thing but I don’t know what will happen with it. I want to cooperate and I want to make sure it is a worthwhile activity,” she told STV News.

“It just feels like they are doing it to cover their own back, albeit it is still a good thing. I just don’t feel like it is for my benefit as much as it is for theirs.

“It has been detrimental to all aspects of my life. I have been gaslit by the police, so I have felt so much anger and a burning sense of injustice. It has felt like I could not do anything about it so I just lived with it, which is not healthy at all.”

Ms Cresswell, then a 20-year-old student at Sunderland University, reported the attack to Northumbria Police shortly after it happened in the early hours of May 28, 2010.

She said officers had decided not to treat her allegation as a crime. She said detectives told her it would be difficult to prove as she had been drunk.

“I was celebrating the end of my second year. We had all gone out, I did not think anything like that would happen to me, it’s the kind of thing you see in horror films. It was a pivotal moment in my life when I realised that I was not safe.”

Hay had recalled the two “almost kissed” as they left the nightclub, but denied sexual assault.

He argued the publication of allegations had caused him “great embarrassment, distress and damage to his reputation” and was seeking damages.

However, the judge found Ms Cresswell’s allegation she had been violently sexually assaulted was “substantially true”.

Ms Cresswell bottled up what had happened to her for a decade. But, inspired by the #MeToo movement, she decided to share her experience online.

The court heard that she had published a blog, two Facebook posts, an Instagram post and sent a Facebook message, and an email, to Hay’s girlfriend and business partner.

“It was 2020 when I spoke out about it. I always wanted to tell my story but the first person I told impacted how I felt. I told a tattooist and his words were ‘haha’ and with those words it didn’t feel like there was any point, I felt so let down and disappointed, it breaks you.

“I had not really thought about going public until the MeToo movement.

“Also, 13 years ago things were culturally very different, now there is much more discourse around sexual assault.

“It was very important (speaking out). The way I was feeling, the stories were very triggering, seeing Harvey Weinstein going to jail, women were finally being believed, so it was very promising.”

“Then when he sued it was three more years of absolute hell.

“Now, when I see an injustice it leaves me with such a fire in my belly. If you do not speak about what happened to you, it can happen to other people.”

It is the first time that a public interest defence under the Defamation Act of 2013 has succeeded when an abuser has sued a victim for libel, lawyers for Ms Cresswell said.

The Good Law Project helped fund the legal action for Ms Cresswell.

Director Emma Dearnaley said: “This is a very important win, both for Nina and for other victims of sexual violence who face being sued for speaking out.

“The case establishes that a public interest defence can be available to women who are sued for libel. Where they are unable to overcome the burden of proving they were sexually assaulted they can still have a defence if they believe there is a public interest in speaking out.

“We are very proud to have stood shoulder to shoulder with Nina. Women should not be silenced for speaking out against violence.”

Tamsin Allen, partner at Bindmans law firm – which represented Ms Cresswell, said the judgement gave much-needed support to women who “seek to name their attackers to protect others.”

A spokesperson for Northumbria Police said: “We can confirm we are reopening the investigation into the report of a sexual assault from 2010.

“It would therefore be inappropriate to comment any further at this stage.”

STV News has contacted Hay for comment.

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