Everything you need to know about sexual violence campaigner Jill Saward, who's died aged 51


Jill Saward, who became a prominent campaigner against sexual violence after being raped at her dad's vicarage, has died at the age of 51.

She was attacked in what became known as the Ealing Vicarage Rape aged 21, and afterwards devoted her life to campaigning for the rights of other victims.

Her husband Gavin Drake and three sons said in a family statement: "It is with deep shock and great sadness that we must announce that Jill Saward (Jill Drake) died this morning in New Cross Hospital, Wolverhampton, following a subarachnoid haemorrhage on Tuesday.

"In consultation with medical staff, the family readily agreed to Jill's desire to be an organ donor. Jill dedicated the past 30 years of her life to helping other people. It gives us great comfort to know that our wonderful wife, mother and sister was able to help other people to the very end."

The Ealing Vicarage Rape

Ealing Vicarage rape gang member Martin McCall on the right (PA)
Ealing Vicarage Rape gang member Martin McCall, right (PA)

Saward was the first rape victim to waive her automatic right to anonymity to speak out about sexual assault after a gang broke into the vicarage in March 1986. During the attack in west London, her boyfriend and dad were tied up and battered.

Martin McCall, then 22, was jailed for five years for raping Saward and five years for aggravated burglary. Christopher Byrne, who was 22 at the time, was sentenced to three years for rape and five years for aggravated burglary and assault. Gang leader Robert Horscroft, then 34, who played no part in the rape, was sentenced to 14 years for burglary and for assaulting Saward's father. Byrne's brother Andrew was beaten unconscious in jail before he could be questioned by police and died after spending four years in a coma.

who was been criticised for the sentences he handed out to rapists (PA)
Mr Justice Leonard, the Old Bailey judge who was criticised for the sentences he handed out to the rapists (PA)

But it was also the words the judge had used in court that led to the case receiving widespread attention. Mr Justice Leonard said the trauma suffered by Saward "had not been so great".

The case was entrenched with infamy when the one man who did not rape Saward received substantially longer jail sentences than the two that did.

But in the years that followed, Saward made sure it was not the attack that came to define her, rather her response to it.

Her campaign work

Jill Saward dedicated her life to changing how rape victims are treated in court (PA)

Born in Liverpool in 1965, Saward once wrote she had no issues with being "tagged" as a rape victim, adding: "I make no complaint about this tag as it has enabled me to challenge politicians and work for change."

Saward went on to write a book called Rape: My Story, and over the following years appeared on TV, radio and newspaper pages to publicise the plight of victims.

Her work over the last three decades saw her advise police and the judiciary on how best to deal with sexual assault and rape cases, as well as being a strong voice for the rights of victims of sex attacks, and a counsellor.

Jill Saward and her husband Gavin (Sean Dempsey/PA)
Jill Saward and her husband Gavin (Sean Dempsey/PA)

She co-founded Jurors Understanding Rape Is Essential Standard (Juries) to campaign for mandatory briefings about myths and stereotypes about sexual violence in trials.

Among the causes she successfully campaigned for was the barring of alleged rapists from cross-examining victims while representing themselves in court.

Most recently she had been rallying against calls to allow accused perpetrators anonymity until conviction.

Many have been paying tribute

Attorney General Jeremy Wright said Saward's "tireless campaigning opened the eyes of many politicians".

He added: "(She) helped to ensure that victims are now placed at the heart of the criminal justice system."

Juries co-founder Alison Boydell said: "Jill was an indefatigable advocate for victim-survivors of sexual violence and dedicated her life to campaigning and raising awareness of rape and sexual violence.

"She also championed many other campaigns and causes and supported so many through her work, kindness and compassion. I will do everything in my power to ensure that her work on Juries was not in vain and that victim-survivors get justice."

Rachel Krys, co-director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, said: "Those of us who worked with Jill always found her to be kind, caring and uplifting.

"Her strength, commitment and tireless campaigning for justice for sexual violence survivors was (and will continue to be) deeply inspiring."

A Rape Crisis England and Wales statement said: "Waiving her right to lifelong anonymity, she campaigned tirelessly for both legal and social justice for victims and survivors of rape and sexual violence.

"Jill was able to step outside of her own harrowing experience to highlight the needs and rights of all those impacted by sexual violence. Jill was courageous, pioneering and an inspiration. She will be sorely missed."