Ex-BBC employee reports alleged fashion sex assault

By Chi Chi Izundu
BBC News

  • Published
Lisa BrinkworthImage source, Adam Walker
Image caption,
Lisa Brinkworth worked undercover as a model in a documentary for the BBC's Donal McIntyre Investigates series in 1998

A former BBC reporter who claims she was sexually assaulted while working undercover to expose abuse in the fashion industry has given a statement to French police.

Lisa Brinkworth posed as a model in a documentary for the BBC's Donal McIntyre Investigates series in 1998.

She alleges she was sexually assaulted by one of the world's biggest model agents, Gerald Marie, during filming.

Along with 13 other former models, she is giving details of her alleged assault to French authorities who have begun a preliminary investigation.

"I would very much like to see justice for them. And particularly because they were just so young and powerless at the time.

"When it happened to me... I was much older, I was working as a journalist, but when I think about them, at 16 or 17 [years old] in some cases, and completely powerless on their own with him, that's what gives me the drive to carry on."

Gerald Marie, who was the former European head of Elite Models, through his lawyer, issued a statement saying he "refutes with dismay these false and defamatory allegations".

"He shall be withholding his eventual statements until speaking to the competent authorities."

Image source, Alamy
Image caption,
Gerald Marie has denied the allegations, made by at least 14 women

According to a report in the Guardian newspaper, the investigation is being led by a specialist child protection unit in France.

Lisa says that after a dinner with other models and Marie's business friends, she accompanied a small group, including Marie, to a club, where he pinned her down to a chair and sexually assaulted her. She said the incident was witnessed by a number of people, including her colleague Donal MacIntyre.

Afterwards, she recorded her account of the assault on camera, but did not go to the police.

"I was directed not to at the time, because it would have cut short the investigation. At that time, we were working very intensively undercover. I was working 20 hour days, I think we were exhausted. We were so focused on the story. I didn't question that wisdom. And I know now I should have done.

"And then of course, in retrospect, I wish I had. It's only recently when I decided to look at this again, and I started to investigate and I started to revisit this, and women were prepared to speak out."

Image caption,
Lisa Brinkworth recorded her account of the assault on camera at the time

After the documentary aired in November 1999, Elite Models sued the BBC alleging misrepresentation.

They reached a confidential settlement which included the BBC not airing the documentary ever again. The BBC also told Lisa that the settlement agreement prevented it providing footage to her.

"It just seems so, so wrong to me that these women have gone through some decades really carrying this trauma," Lisa says.

"I feel responsibility myself because I started doing that work. And I feel that the settlement with Elite sort of halted progress."

Under French law, all of the women have exhausted their statute of limitation - the time in which they could have pursued a criminal case against Gerald Marie.

But Anne-Claire Lejeune, Lisa's lawyer, says she argued with the Paris prosecutor that Lisa was prevented at the time from being able to seek criminal justice and therefore her statute of limitations should be paused in order for an investigation to begin.

She says that argument, combined with the number of women making similar accusations against Marie, ultimately convinced the prosecutor to give the go-ahead for a preliminary investigation.

"I had four victims who contacted me last September, who told me their stories, that they were raped - when they were a minor, for some of them, and for others when they were 20 or 22, and they wanted to press charges against Gerald Marie.

"So we submitted their testimonies to the French Prosecutor and he decided to open a preliminary investigation against Gerald Marie for rapes and sexual assault."

Anne-Claire says she has so far spoken with 31 women who have detailed similar accusations against Gerald Marie. She confirms that 14 will be interviewed by French authorities, but the rest are "not ready to talk officially right now".

"For women who don't feel ready to talk, they can give their testimony without giving their names. They can stay anonymous during the investigation. They can write to me and I'll submit it to the prosecutor or they can write to the prosecutor directly."

Lisa believes the undercover recordings she gathered for the BBC documentary are evidence of her assault and has requested the footage from her former employer. So far, she says, they have refused to pass it on to her.

According to the New York Times, ex model Carrie Otis has launched a separate legal action against Gerald Marie, accusing him of repeatedly raping her in Paris when she was 17.

Catherine Donaldson is also going to Paris to give an account of her sexual assault accusation against Gerald Marie. She says in 1985, when she was an aspiring model, he invited her to his apartment after convincing her he was having a party. No-one else turned up, she claims, and Marie offered her drugs, which she declined, before he "pounced on her", sexually assaulting her.

"My agent in England knew that this could potentially happen to me in Paris, but as she said, she thought I could handle it," says Catherine.

"It was recognised, enough people knew he was doing that. He was allowed."

She later went on to make a film called Couch, which was a fictionalised version, she says of her experience with Gerald Marie.

Image source, Catherine Donaldson

Laurie Marsden, who lives in Australia, claims in that 1982, Gerald Marie pushed her onto a bed and attempted to rape her after a party at his flat in Paris.

"One of the questions that people ask is, well, why didn't you report it at the time? And I say that is the wrong question. The question is, why did it take so long for women to be heard, for women to feel comfortable to come forward and tell their stories, for women to be believed and not to be victim blamed?"

In a statement, the BBC said it was "doing everything" it could to assist Lisa with her complaint.

"We take these matters very seriously and we know this is distressing for Lisa Brinkworth. We are doing everything we can to help Lisa pursue her complaint with the French authorities.

"Our lawyers have provided documents to the French investigators and to Lisa and we are in continuing discussions with Lisa and her lawyers on how we can help further as the legal process progresses."

Anne-Claire says she believes there are potentially more women, within the statute of limitations, who can contribute to the investigation, but who are unaware that one is being conducted.

"That's why my clients want to send a message saying if you have been a victim then please come forward."

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