What it was like to cover the trial of Britain’s worst rapist — in secret
On January 6, 2020, Manchester student Reynhard Sinaga was jailed for life at Manchester Crown Court for raping up to 200 men who were out clubbing. He was Britain’s worst rapist. Manchester Evening News reporter Beth Abbit writes about one of the most shocking and extraordinary episodes in criminal history.
For a long time, there has been a stigma surrounding male rape.
So when Coronation Street tackled the issue in a major storyline, it seemed the right time to explore the issue in the Manchester Evening News.
In the wake of the David Platt storyline I worked with Duncan Craig OBE, who set up the charity Survivors to help male victims of rape and sexual abuse. He put me in touch with rape victim, Sam Thompson, who eloquently described his experience.
Duncan also talked about his own experience and why Survivors was so needed.
Around 18 months ago, I was writing a piece about a spike in reports of male rape. A police contact told me: “We think a lot of them relate to the same person.” It seemed totally unbelievable.
With the first scraps of information about Reynhard Sinaga I spoke to our crown court reporter Andrew Bardsley. He knew about the case but explained there was an order in place delaying any reporting.
In July 2018, — and at the end of Sinaga’s first secret trial — I asked GMP for an off the record briefing so I could start to understand what was going on.
From contacts I started to understand the scale of the case.
I began to gather any information I could about Sinaga from social media pages, university websites and genealogy records.
I also got hold of the Judge’s comments from Sinaga’s first sentencing hearing.
In April, September and December last year I went to court to listen to the evidence in three more trials.
What I heard shocked me. I no longer cover court on a regular basis, but it used to be my day job. I can honestly say the Sinaga case is one of the most disturbing I have ever sat through. The sheer volume of victims and Sinaga’s total lack of remorse made this unlike anything I have experienced.
I started to pull together the story together in between other reporting duties such as covering breaking news and patch stories and while working various shifts on the newsroom rota. It was months of talking to contacts, following the case through legal twists and turns, consulting with editors, and juggling the research with dozens of other stories.
Content editor Chris Osuh worked with me to decide how we should break up the vast amount of evidence and tell this story in the most effective way — one long backgrounder and several separate stories. Thought and planning was vital.
I wanted to understand how police had managed to bring Sinaga to justice and so arranged to speak to detectives. They gave me vital insights into the intricacies of the case.
Because of the sheer number of victims, the case had to be split into four separate trials.
Police expected many more men to come forward after his name and what he had done became public.
This meant a temporary order which banned the press from reporting Sinaga’s case was put in place. It meant he was guaranteed a fair trial each time.
Police and prosecutors also believed if the media were to report details from ongoing trials it may have deterred potential victims, or witnesses, from coming forward to report the crimes, or from giving evidence in court.
I’ve been asked why we didn’t challenge this order.
The answer is pretty simple — just because you can do something, it doesn’t mean you always should.
The drug Sinaga used to incapacitate these men left them with amnesia, and none reported any injury.
They only knew what had happened when police knocked on their doors to interview them, sometimes years after the attack.
It was the sensitivities around the case that prompted prosecutors to ask for reporting restrictions to be put in place. They needed to protect not just the victims they knew about, but those they didn’t.
Reporting restrictions are often lifted on conviction. But in this case they were extended until sentencing, because the fourth trial finished shortly before Christmas, and there were concerns about the availability of counselling services over the holiday period.
The Manchester Evening News did not challenge the extension of the reporting restrictions because of these circumstances.
We regularly challenge court orders, if required, but it seemed clear to us that in this case, the welfare of the victims was paramount.
There was never any suggestion that restrictions would remain in place indefinitely. We always knew we would be able to tell the story and we wanted to tell it the best way we could — always putting the victims first. All that was required was diligence and patience.
It has been put to me that the reporting restrictions may have meant this important case wasn’t reported thoroughly enough. National newspapers might not have had the chance to pick up the details and therefore cover it as closely as the Manchester Evening News, the narrative went.
It’s a point I simply can’t accept.
We serve our city.
That involves a commitment to the interests of our area that no national newspaper is willing or able to make.
In any case part of the way through one of the trials the Press Association put the details of the case on the wire, so it could have been picked up by anyone. And some papers/sites with a Northern office sent reporters to cover the case. This may be more of a question of how national desks regard content outside London.
There has been a somewhat tired narrative about the demise of local journalism. Yet my bosses recognised this as such an important and historic case that they allowed me to sit in court day after day, even though they knew we wouldn’t be able to publish anything for months.
We have a thriving newsroom and a website with a massive reach as well as a daily paper. We had a duty to report Sinaga’s offending as clearly and as thoroughly as we could. We had a duty to behave in a way that put the victims first.
So far the stories about this case have had more than 900,000 page views showing the readers value this kind of in depth journalism.
My main hope though is that in reporting this case we can help to break down the stigma around male rape.