Lady Lavinia Nourse abuse trial: Ex-Tory minister gives evidence

image captionLady Lavinia Nourse was married to Sir Martin Nourse, who died in 2017, aged 85

Former Conservative cabinet minister Sir Malcolm Rifkind has given evidence at the trial of the widow of a Court of Appeal judge accused of the sexual abuse of a boy in the 1980s.

Lady Lavinia Nourse, 77, of Newmarket in Suffolk, was married to Sir Martin Nourse, who died in 2017, aged 85.

She denies 17 counts of sexually abusing a boy under the age of 12.

Sir Malcolm was called as a character witness by her defence and described her as "very sociable".

Lady Nourse, who is on trial at Peterborough's Nightingale court at the city's cathedral, denies five counts of indecently assaulting a boy and 12 counts of indecency with a child, all related to the same complainant.

Sir Malcolm, former Foreign Secretary and Defence Secretary under John Major and Scotland Secretary for Margaret Thatcher, told the court Lady Nourse was "very sociable and very gregarious".

He said he got to know Lady Nourse and her husband Sir Martin in the late 1990s.

image captionSir Malcolm Rifkind, a former cabinet minister, pictured here in 2014, was called as character witness by Lady Lavinia Nourse's defence team

The former MP said: "She wasn't simply what would have been called in the olden days a housewife.

"She had opinions; she was articulate; she was fun."

Historian and Daily Telegraph and Spectator journalist Simon Heffer was also called by defence barrister Jonathan Caplan QC.

The research fellow at the University of Buckingham told the court he met the defendant at a New Year's Eve party in Cambridgeshire.

He said: "I regard Lady Nourse as one of my closest friends. I've known her for 25 years.

"She's a person I regard as being of complete integrity - intelligent and above all very caring and immensely loyal to her friends."

He told the court she was "utterly stricken by her husband's death".

image captionSimon Heffer, pictured here in 2015, said he knew the defendant for 25 years

Gary Newnes, governor of Chelmsford Prison in Essex, said he got to know Lady Lavinia while she was part of the Independent Monitoring Board working group for Highpoint Prison in Suffolk, where he previously worked.

He described her as "charming, engaging, extremely sincere, caring and refreshingly honest", adding that she was also "extremely witty"

The trial continues.

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