Stigmatized After Not Guilty Verdict

By Lindsey Cole/The Oshawa Express

Ray Collingham’s demeanour is kind of shy, almost meek.

His body language illustrates a man who is constantly questioning his every move, his every word.

He appears uncomfortable. Afraid. He simply doesn’t want to say the wrong thing.

He’ll laugh about everyday things just like anyone else, but when the subject comes up about his past, about a terrible time in his life, his smile quickly fades. His eyes look filled with pain.

But rather than get angry or aggressive about the case, which saw him acquitted in 2009 of 15 child sex charges, the former Durham Region gymnastics coach tears up instead.

It’s a matter that never should have happened in the first place, he says. And as he wipes away the tears he simply shakes his head at the fact that while he had his day in court, life outside the courtroom has been anything but fair.

“I am not a sex offender,” he says in frustration. “I had a really good reputation. I have been coaching since I was 18.”

He tried to fight back through a $5 million civil suit against the police officer and police service he says wronged him, but he recently dropped the case because the legal costs were mounting too high, costing roughly $1,000 a month. Now, as a way to educate people about the lives of those who have been wrongly accused, he is creating a documentary describing each and every account of his ordeal.

“I really want to get across in the documentary…I want to be very transparent,” he says. “I won’t put anything in I can’t prove. It really is an interesting story.”

Collingham was arrested in 2007 in British Columbia where he was living at the time. Immediately he says he felt like he was guilty until proven innocent. He was charged with sexual assault, exploitation, interference and invitation to sexual touching. He says he was immediately labelled a ‘*********’ and taken back to Peterborough, Ontario where the allegations stemmed from.

“Do you know how humiliating it was when I was sitting in jail?” he says. “I spent nine days in jail. I couldn’t imagine being there any longer. I was so humiliated. I didn’t know what to do.”

The whole case seemed to revolve around emails Collingham had allegedly wrote to the complainant that invited sexual activities. In court, the emails were proved to have been fabricated, said Collingham’s lawyer Graham Clark in a previous interview with The Oshawa Express.

“This case really illustrates how someone who’s acquitted doesn’t necessarily get their day in court,” Clark says. “Getting acquitted of course helps the accused avoid jail and the sex-offender registry, etc. etc., but doesn’t really help an accused in the sense of vindication and avoiding undue police attention in future. In my experience, in the eyes of police, people who are acquitted just ‘got away with it’ because of reasonable doubt.”

The alleged incidents of assault started when the boy, his mother and sister resided with Collingham for about eight months a few years prior to him being charged in 2007. The Durham

Regional Police Department laid charges against Collingham, who had since moved to British Columbia. He had coached the boy, who cannot be named, when he was between the ages of about 12 and 16. Collingham says he was helping the family during what he thought was a tough time. Peterborough police conducted the investigation and dealt with the case because the boy had lived within its jurisdiction at the relevant time of the accusations, states the statement of claim for the civil suit that has since been dropped.

Collingham says he went through the wringer during the trial. It outraged him the way, he says, police conducted the investigation. What’s more, it hurt him to see someone he says he tried to help accusing him of descriptive sexual acts that, he says, never happened.

Collingham’s criminal case came to an end when Justice David Salmers told the court on July 14, 2009 that there wasn’t enough to go on in terms of testimony from the alleged victim and his mother, explained Clark, adding Justice Salmers couldn’t rely on the testimony of the complainant, his mother or the accused himself.

But Clark says he feels there could have been more vindication for Ray had the judge not cut short Collingham’s testimony, especially since during the time of the alleged sexual acts Collingham was keeping diary entries of what was happening in the household.

“In this case the trial process might have vindicated Ray's innocence if his testimony had not been cut short by the trial Judge’s refusal to permit him to refresh his memory in the witness box with his extremely detailed diary entries,” he says. “Those details would likely have caused the Judge to outright exonerate Ray, in my view, but they were never heard. The crown did not even oppose Ray refreshing his memory in the witness box, and with all due respect to the learned trial judge there is no law against it. But the trial judge on his own motion took a `gate-keeping` position curtailing the duration of Ray`s testimony.”

“Ray does not have an avenue to appeal that ruling because he was found 'not guilty'.”

And while Collingham launched the $5 million lawsuit against a Peterborough police officer and the Peterborough Lakefield Police Services Board to try and clear his name, he couldn’t keep it going.

“The plaintiff has suffered significant major depression, psychological harm and suffering, emotional trauma, loss of enjoyment of life, anguish, humiliation, loss of self-esteem and confidence,” read the statement of claim for the suit, which was launched in July 2011. It specifically stated the officer, who conducted the majority of the investigation, including interviewing the supposed child victim, was allegedly negligent during the investigation. Collingham and his lawyer say they believe the officer did not interview the child witness properly.

“The investigation did not meet the standards of a reasonably competent investigation,” the claim read. Those accusations against the officer were never proven in court.

“It is surprising he was even able to start such a lawsuit, given the costs,” adds Clark.

While Collingham was disappointed he couldn’t attempt to clear his name through the civil suit, he says the documentary, which is currently in the works with the hope of being complete sometime in early 2013, is a way for him to try to get the word out about his experience.

“I won’t be silenced,” he says. One component of the documentary he says he intends to highlight is a videotaped interview of the boy, which was shot in November 2009 when he was older, recanting the claims made during the case. While his face will be blacked out so as not to identify him, Collingham says his words are quite telling.

“It’s something I still think of every single day. I feel bad for him…he’s not the same person,” the alleged victim says in the video. “After so many people have seen your picture in the newspaper, calling yourself a child molester, that’s not something I want to go through, and I don’t even know how it feels. I just keep apologizing. I just keep hoping that somewhere deep down inside him…he isn’t mad at me.”

Collingham stayed in Durham Region despite the negative reception after the case, though life hasn’t been easy, he says. He’s worked at several gyms as a personal trainer and coach, but then someone reveals his past and he takes two steps back.

“Sometimes I heard through the grapevine that they thought I was a great coach,” he says.

“A lot of gyms won’t speak to me. I select who I tell.”

His younger sister Megan Farwell says her brother hasn’t been vindicated; instead he’s been stereotyped and ridiculed.

“I think he’s been greatly impacted. Ever since then (the case) he’s had anxiety attacks. He didn’t want to go out for the longest time. He is probably one of the strongest people I know. I was terrified for him myself when he was in jail and when we had to get him out,” she states. “I can’t even put it into words. I just wanted him to be OK. I didn’t believe it at all. He’s always been such a caring person with everyone. He always tried to help people.”

She says the media attention and the perception of the public is something that hit Collingham hard.

“When someone gets accused of something like that their picture is in the paper…my first reaction is what is wrong with that person?” she says, adding she feels like it was no different in her brother’s case. “It’s frustrating for me that people still look at him that way. People still think that. He’s a good man. I am very proud of him. I couldn’t even imagine getting my life back together.”

His lawyer shares similar feelings.

“He’s been stigmatized brutally,” Clark says. “He’s a very caring guy, probably too much so. He makes me think of the saying, ‘no good deed goes unpunished.’”

But Collingham stays modest. His says he knows if he keeps trying to clear his name, eventually it may happen. And thanks to his family and friends, he says he’s been able to cope.

“I don’t think I would have made it through without their support. They supported me right from the beginning,” he says.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t difficult moments - times when Collingham says he gets frustrated, upset and wants to give up.

“Certain things still get me,” he says as his eyes begin to fill. “I’m just trying to pick up the pieces.”

innocent101 innocent101
26-30, M
2 Responses Jan 20, 2013

This story fascinates me. My grandpa is being falsely accused of many counts of sexual assault historically. He is an innocent man and I Am terrified that his last few years are going to be fighting for his self respect.

Congratulations on clearing your name and just know that some people absolutely give their deepest sympathy.

This is so awful. You are so lucky to have been set free. It gives me hope

We had allegations coming out of Peterborough as well