The Press editorial gets it pretty right for me in saying:
As a senior police officer representing power and privilege, he was involved in a deplorable private association with a young woman who plainly was out of her depth. He used her in a callous and careless way.
I don’t tend to judge anyone’s consensual sexual behaviour, but three police officers all having casual and group sex with a teenager is not a relationship of equals. Don’t get me wrong I am not saying one can not have a strong loving relationship with someone significantly younger than yourself. Of course you can (as many people, including me, have). Neither am I saying casual or group sex by itself is exploitative. What I am saying is that in this case it was exploitative with the combination of factors involved.
However like the jury I have never been convinced, certainly beyond reasonable doubt, that it was not consensual. The flatmate’s testimony alone was compelling reason to doubt the veracity of what Nicholas said (even though I suspect Nicholas very much believes what she says). The flatmate had no reason at all to lie.
So while the actions of Rickards and co were, perhaps extremely unwise, sending Rickards to prison for up to seven years for a sexual encounter which he had no reason to think was not consensual and welcome would have been very very wrong.
Even though the behaviour was “morally reprehensible” (as admitted by the defendants) it was not illegal unless Nicholas made it clear at the time the encounters were unwelcome.