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R v Thomas – 1985

April 01, 2024
Micheal James

Jurisdiction / Tag(s): UK Law

Introduction to R v Thomas – 1985

The 1985 case of R v Thomas is a significant decision in English law concerning sexual assault and the admissibility of evidence. This case study delves into the details of the case, the legal questions it raised, and its lasting impact.


Mr. Thomas, a school caretaker, faced accusations of indecent assault on two young female students. The first alleged incident involved an 11-year-old girl claiming Mr. Thomas rubbed the bottom of her skirt and lifted it twice, with no witnesses present. The second incident involved a 12-year-old girl claiming Mr. Thomas touched the bottom of her skirt while she was in the library, again without witnesses. Notably, the jury acquitted Mr. Thomas on ten other similar allegations.


The case presented two central legal challenges:

  1. Corroborative Evidence: Can the testimonies of other alleged victims of similar assaults be admitted as evidence to support the charges against the defendant (corroborative evidence)?
  2. Definition of Indecent Assault: Does simply touching the bottom of a girl’s skirt constitute indecent assault under the Sexual Offences Act 1956?


The court addressed both issues with nuanced rulings:

  1. Corroborative Evidence: The court acknowledged the difficulty of prosecuting sexual assault cases which often lack witness testimony. They allowed the use of similar fact evidence (testimonies from other alleged victims) with caution. However, the court emphasized the importance of such evidence being relevant to the specific case and not unduly prejudicial to the defendant.
  2. Definition of Indecent Assault: The court moved away from a purely act-based definition. They held that touching the bottom of a girl’s skirt, depending on the context and the intent behind the act, could constitute indecent assault. The focus shifted to the sexual motive accompanying the physical touching.


  1. Corroborative Evidence: Recognizing the challenges faced by complainants in sexual assault cases, the court allowed the use of similar fact evidence to strengthen the prosecution’s case. This decision aimed to address the inherent difficulty in securing witness testimony for such crimes. However, the court emphasized the need for strict safeguards to ensure such evidence is relevant and does not unfairly sway the jury towards a guilty verdict.
  2. Definition of Indecent Assault: The court’s decision moved the legal definition of indecent assault beyond the mere act of touching. The focus shifted to the intent behind the act. Touching a girl’s skirt in a sexual manner could now be considered indecent assault, even if the touching itself was minimal.


R v Thomas is a landmark case in English sexual assault law. It expanded the scope of admissible evidence in such cases, allowing the use of similar fact evidence with proper safeguards. The case also provided a clearer and more nuanced definition of indecent assault by focusing on the sexual intent behind the act, not just the physical touching.


R v Thomas remains a vital case in English law, impacting how sexual assault cases are tried and the types of evidence that can be admitted. The case highlights the importance of balancing the rights of the complainant with the right of the defendant to a fair trial. It also demonstrates the ongoing legal efforts to effectively address the complexities of prosecuting sexual assault cases.

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