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WhatsApp messages should not have led to Alex Hepburn rape conviction, Court of Appeal hears

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The lawyer for Alex Hepburn, the former Worcestershire cricketer who was last year convicted of rape, has argued that WhatsApp messages boasting of a sexual conquest “game” should not have been submitted as evidence in his trial.

Hepburn, 24, was jailed for five years in April 2019, after being found guilty of oral rape following a retrial. The court heard how he had attacked a sleeping woman in the bed of his former team-mate, Joe Clarke, with whom the victim had already had consensual sex.

The prosecution put it to the jury that Hepburn had become “fired up” by the challenge of sleeping with more women than his team-mates, and had carried out the attack at his flat in Worcester on April 1, 2017.

However, the same jury also cleared Hepburn of a second count of rape, and at London’s Court of Appeal, David Emanuel QC argued that the two verdicts were “inconsistent”.

“The idea propagated by the Crown, that he was so desperate to win the game this year that he would ignore true consent if he had to, is just not supported by anything in the messages or by the fact of the game itself.

“I accept it would be different if there was talk of sex against will, or trickery to gain a point, or taking a chance, but there’s nothing like that in the messages.

“They are too far removed as to be able to be to do with the facts of the alleged offence.”

Hepburn’s appeal is being heard by a bench of three senior judges, including the Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett, who said that the court would give its ruling at a later date.

Miranda Moore QC, representing the Crown Prosecution Service, argued that the WhatsApp messages were not merely an example of “boyish banter”, but a “deep-seated and long-running game between a number of professional sportsmen”.

“It wasn’t, as suggested, motivation on the part of the prosecution to generate disgust,” Ms Moore added. “The motivation on the part of the prosecution was to shine a light on the appellant’s state of mind.”

At his sentencing at Hereford Crown Court in April last year, Judge Jim Tindal described the game as “pathetic”.

“You probably thought it was laddish behaviour at the time. In truth it was foul sexism,” he said.



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Recent Match Report – Team Buttler vs Team Stokes Warm Up 2020

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Team Stokes 233 and 157 for 4 (Bairstow 39, Sibley 38) drew with Team Buttler 287 for 5 dec and 200 for 6 dec (Pope 55 not out)

England’s final preparations for the long-awaited return of Test cricket were boosted on and off the field on Friday, with Sam Curran testing negative for Covid-19 and a handful of key batsmen spending important time at the crease.

Curran’s all-clear was perhaps the most important development of the day, removing the need for a fresh examination of the much-discussed ‘bio-secure bubble’ at the Ageas Bowl ahead of Wednesday’s #raisethebat series opener against the West Indies.

The all-rounder emerged from self-isolation in his hotel room to take in the final session of a drawn internal clash between Team Stokes and Team Buttler, during which five of England’s likeliest top six enjoyed valuable workouts. The game finished with Stokes’ side 157 for 4 in a nominal chase of 255 – the final equation having only been set up by Jos Buttler’s second declaration.

Now it is over to the selectors to fill in the blanks, with a 22-man squad due to be named on Saturday morning, cutting eight names from the original training group of 30. As many as seven of those could be listed as reserves, living and training on-site in Southampton but largely in support of a core group.

Ollie Pope was the day’s top-scorer, pleasingly into fully fluent mode with a rapid 55 not out, while openers Rory Burns and Dom Sibley, Zak Crawley and Stokes himself each passed 30 to bank useful middle practice before the real thing.

Joe Denly conspicuously failed to join them among the runs, lbw second ball to Jack Leach, but the belated appearance of Dan Lawrence at No.7 suggests his place is safe for now.

There was greater clarity on the spinning position too, with Dom Bess’s status as the man in possession only underlined by expensive spells from Leach and Moeen Ali. The pair did share five wickets for Team Stokes but three of those came from the care-free pursuit of declaration runs and both were far too expensive.

Leg-spinner Matt Parkinson picked up the wickets of Jonny Bairstow and Sibley in the concluding session, only for Stokes to cool his momentum by launching him for 22 in a over.

The day began with Mark Wood taking on the role of the absent Barmy Army, waving a flag on top of the pavilion as he sang his team-mates onto the field with a burst of ‘Jerusalem’. That proved a rare break to the silence England have found so unusual this week, with some suggestion that artificial noise could be piped into the venue for the Test match.

ALSO READ: Sam Curran tests negative for Covid-19 after sickness bout

Resuming 54 ahead of Stokes’ side, Team Buttler’s opening pair of Burns and James Bracey put on care-free stand of 61 in the morning. Bracey, whose day one 85 proved the top score of the match, was first down for 22, top-edging Stokes to fine leg, before Leach trapped new man Denly clean in front for one. That was a rare victory for Leach, who leaked five sixes and looks short of rhythm.

Moeen was also loose but had the satisfaction of bowling Burns on the back foot for 35 before lunch. Runs flowed freely in the afternoon, Pope scoring with consummate freedom as he shared 50-run stands with Buttler (35) and Chris Woakes (37), who were both caught in the deep.

Lawrence’s demotion down the order, and ultimate demise for 6, concluded the innings at 200 for 4.

Bairstow was invited to open alongside Sibley for the fourth innings, suggesting a place in the 22 awaits him, and the pair added 70. Parkinson accounted for both, caught at cover and stumped respectively, but three huge sixes and a reverse sweep for four in a solitary over off the bat of Stokes proved the end of his stint.​

The soon-to-be Test captain finished unbeaten on 37 from just 17 deliveries, while Crawley chimed in with a bright 34 before falling lbw to Wood. Bess ushered in the early finish when he dismissed Moeen for six, underlining his new status as the man in possession of the slow bowling berth.



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Recreational cricket cleared to resume ‘next weekend’ after Boris Johnson U-turn

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Boris Johnson, the UK prime minister, says he is committed to getting recreational cricket cleared for a resumption in time for “next weekend”, after backtracking from his latest comments doubting the safety of the sport in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Addressing the nation in the government’s daily briefing, Mr Johnson claimed that “the third umpire has been invoked” in the wake of his morning comments on LBC, in which he had played down his criticism of the cricket ball as a “natural vector of disease”, but instead claimed that “teas” and “changing rooms” were among the reasons why the game could not yet be considered safe to resume.

“Having been stumped on the radio this morning … I sought scientific advice,” the prime minister said. “We do want to work as fast as possible to get cricket back, and we will be publishing guidelines in the next few days, so that cricket can resume in time for next weekend”.

The U-turn will come as vindication for the ECB, which instigated a further meeting between Tom Harrison, the ECB chief executive, and Oliver Dowden, the culture secretary, in the wake of Mr Johnson’s comments.

“We are delighted that the UK Government have given their permission for recreational cricket to return from next weekend,” the ECB said on Twitter. “We will shortly be publishing our approved guidelines to help clubs and players prepare for cricket’s return.

“The ECB believes that cricket is a non-contact sport, with very low risks of exposure, and that it can be played as safely as many other activities being currently permitted.

“The detailed submission we have shared with the Department For Digital, Culture, Media and Sport includes advice on how we can stage cricket safely and mitigate all potential risks.

“We believe this advice – allied with strict hygiene measures – means recreational cricket should be viewed as safe by the UK Government, which would be welcome news to our nation’s recreational cricketers.”

Chris Whitty, the government’s chief medical officer, went into further detail on the status of recreational cricket during the government briefing, saying that the principle concern was that it brought together more households than the maximum of six people who are currently permitted to socialise, even outdoors.

“It is perfectly possible to have cricket where people do keep their distance,” he added, “provided people don’t do things that are clearly not sensible, ranging from hugging the bowler if they’ve just bowled someone for a duck, to spitting on the ball.

“It should be possible to make the game itself really very safe as it is an outdoor sport at a distance. It’s not a contact sport in the sense that some of the high-risk outdoor sports are.

“There are, however, risks associated … the particular ones would be people going into a crowded space afterwards, for example in the pavilion, to have tea or a beer.

“The biggest risks are when lots of people from completely different households are brought together in close proximity indoors, and whether that’s in a pub or a cricket pavilion, that is a high risk activity.”

Under current regulations, socially-distanced training sessions are the only permissible form of cricket. The ECB recently announced the cancellation of a spate of national and age-group competitions in a bid to give clubs more leeway in what remains of the summer schedule. However, having been given the impression in their discussions with the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) that the recreational game could resume from July 4 – the same day that the government announced the reopening of bars and restaurants – the governing body remains unable to offer an exact start date.

Johnson’s morning comments had been met with bemusement across the recreational game – not least because the ECB wrote to clubs only this week stating that, in accordance with Step 4 of their guidance for cricket’s resumption, “no use of changing rooms” would be permitted, with players asked to arrive “ready to play”.

A tweet from Cricket Germany, where the recreational game has already resumed, added: “If this is the case then do what we and other European countries do; 1. no changing rooms, 2. no teas (everybody brings their own tea) #notrocketscience.”

In a bid to offset the massive financial impact of the pandemic to date, which has hit club subscriptions as well as existing overheads in pavilion and ground maintenance, the ECB made £20million available in grants and loans in April, with further assistance from Sport England and other local authority schemes.



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Sam Curran tests negative for Covid-19 after sickness bout

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Sam Curran has tested negative for Covid-19, after being forced to withdraw from England’s intra-squad three-day warm-up match at the Ageas Bowl through illness.

Curran, who made a brisk 15 on the first day but did not get a chance to press his case for a Test place with the ball, has been self-isolating in his room at the team hotel after coming down with ‘sickness and diarrhoea’ on the second day of the match.

He underwent a Covid test during the lunch interval on Thursday, and would have been required to spend a further seven days in isolation had it turned out to be positive, with implications for the rest of the squad ahead of the first Test against West Indies on July 8.

However, he will now return to training over the next 24-48 hours but will continue to be closely monitored by the team doctor, Mark Wotherspoon.

Curran will receive a further Covid-19 test on Sunday, along with the rest of the playing and management group.

The news comes as a relief for the ECB, who had last week reported a total of 703 negative Covid tests at the Ageas Bowl and Emirates Old Trafford, the West Indies base, in the lead-up to the Test series.

There will be concerns, however, if another sickness bug is making its way through the England squad, after the team’s build-up to the first Test in South Africa in December was ravaged by illness.

There were some concerns about the health of Dan Lawrence, one of the likelier candidates to stand in for Joe Root during the first Test, who did not come out to bat in the top six in Team Buttler’s second innings at the Ageas Bowl, after a fluent fifty on the first day.

However, the likelihood of any transmission has been reduced by the social-distancing measures being taken within the team environment, and a team spokesman confirmed to ESPNcricinfo that Lawrence was fine.



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