How Lady Lavinia Nourse's gilded life came crashing down

How Lady Lavinia Nourse’s gilded life of dinner parties and shooting trips came crashing down when her accuser falsely claimed he was abused in the 1980s after his marriage broke down and he got into debt

  • Lady Nourse was today cleared at Peterborough’s Nightingale court of 17 historical sex abuse charges
  • She said: ‘This has been hanging over me for nearly four years. It is a happy result, finally some good news’ 
  • The jury was told of Lady Nourse’s enviable married life, including wining and dining high society friends 
  • MailOnline can reveal that a marriage breakdown and monetary problems led to the false allegations 

As the widow of one of Britain’s most senior judges, Lady Lavinia Nourse enjoyed a gilded existence that passed in a whirl of horse races, shooting trips and parties for high society friends at their £2.75million country house.

But MailOnline can now reveal that this all came crashing down when she was accused of sexually abusing a boy in the 1980s amid a financial dispute – charges that she was comprehensively cleared of today. 

A marriage breakdown and monetary problems led to the false allegations, it can now be reported. Her accuser had begun behaving erratically, lost his job and got into debt then started being aggressive towards his wife.

On one occasion he attacked her after she had tried to bring one of their children into bed with them as the infant could not sleep. He kicked out at his wife and putting his hands around her throat.

Lady Nourse’s gilded life as the wife of one of the UK’s most senior judges, Sir Martin Nourse,  came crashing down when the allegations were made against her (she is seen waving to photographers while leaving court today after being cleared) 

During this period, he wrote to Sir Martin saying the family owed him money but his demands were ignored by the judge, who died aged 85 in 2017. Under the financial and emotional strain, his wife finally said she wanted to leave him because she was so fed up with his erratic and potentially violent behaviour.

He then told her and other members of his family the reason for his meltdown was that he had been abused as a child by Lady Nourse.  

During her trial the jury was told of Lady Nourse’s enviable married life, how she and Sir Martin went on shooting weekends and counted former foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind and his late wife as close friends. 

They also enjoyed ‘wonderful’ yachting holidays and even Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve family get-togethers with disgraced Tory peer Lord Archer and his wife Mary. 

Sir Malcolm and Mary Archer were among a raft of high-profile witnesses who testified to her character at the trial, describing their friend as ‘very gregarious’, ‘loyal’ and ‘a person of complete integrity and probity’. 

Lady Nourse smiled and waved as she left court after the verdict, and said: ‘This has been hanging over me for nearly four years. It is a happy result… finally some good news.’ 

She said in a statement: ‘Today I have been completely exonerated of all allegations made against me. These cruel and baseless allegations were made after the death of my husband Sir Martin Nourse and my life since that time has been a living hell. 

‘Allegations made during the trial sought to traduce the memory of my beloved husband, who it was claimed had turned a blind eye. 

‘Defending myself and my husband’s memory during the trial has been the most difficult and heaviest burden of my life. My very greatest relief in being exonerated is having my husband’s reputation fully restored. 

Lady Archer told MailOnline following the verdict: ‘I am delighted but not at all surprised that my friend Lavinia Nourse has been cleared of all the charges brought against her, and that her ordeal finally is over.’

And family friend Simon Heffer added: ‘None of us who gave evidence for Lady Nourse believed for a second that she had committed any of the offences with which she was charged. It beggars belief not just that the CPS chose to pursue a harmless and blameless elderly lady in this way, at huge cost to her health, her finances and her reputation, but that felt able to squander substantial amounts of public money on doing so. 

‘This obsession with finding imaginary child abusers will in the end harm genuine victims and destroy respect for the rule of law.’

The trial heard how Lady Nourse’s accuser confronted her with the allegations just months after the death of Sir Martin and as she was preparing for his memorial service.

Sensing an opportunity, he again demanded money, this time from her after making the allegations.

He had three more meetings with Lady Nourse. On each occasion, she insisted that no abuse had happened. The accuser made a secret recording of the final meeting in October 2018.

The recording was played to the jury and featured the man and woman making financial demands, saying Lady Nourse should look after them.

Mr Jonathan Caplan QC, defending, suggested it was an attempt to force her to hand over money while she had the allegations of child abuse hanging over her.

Earlier in the trial Lady Nourse told the police that the claims were ‘completely repulsive’ and that her accuser’s evidence was a ‘fantasy’ and ‘beyond belief’. 

Giving evidence in the witness box, she wept as she repeatedly denied indecently touching him.

She accused him of being ‘psychologically disturbed’ and making up the claims to force her into handing over money to him when he was an adult, saying, ‘he is most definitely lying’, and that he lived in ‘cloud cuckoo land’.   

Lady Nourse was accompanied by companions as she left The Knights’ Chamber in Peterborough at the end of the two-week trial 

Before: The judge’s widow is seen arriving at court today after two weeks of evidence in which the prosecution sought to paint her as an abuser  

Incredibly, Lady Nourse’s trial heard claims that Sir Martin who was vice president of the Court of Appeal had known of her abuse, but chose to ignore it and ‘turned the other way’. 

High profile friends of the couple described the judge as being ‘a man of the ‘highest integrity’, and Lady Nourse’s defence team said it was therefore inconceivable that he would have done nothing if told of any abuse.  

Nourse met Sir Martin, who was 11 years her senior, when she had started her PR career in London. 

She married him 1972 and moved to his home, North End House, in Grantchester near Cambridge, which he had bought in the 1960s with money inherited from his grandmother.

Her career blossomed in tandem with that of her husband, a sought-after commercial lawyer who rose to Vice-President of the Civil Division of the Court of Appeal of England and Wales.

No doubt benefitting from her formidable friendship network, she set up a PR company, which organised the premieres of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Starlight Express and Phantom Of The Opera, and even arranged the Queen’s 60th birthday celebrations.

A cat lover, she had a keen interest in racing and bought her husband a share in a horse, Peace Price. This proved to be a good investment, winning two of its seven races, including the Tamdown Handicap at Newmarket in June 15 – a moment Sir Martin regarded as a highlight in his life.

In 1994 the couple bought Dullingham House, a 18th-century country mansion named after the sleepy Cambridgeshire village where it sits in parkland designed by Humphry Repton, regarded as the successor to Capability Brown.

Alongside her professional career, Nourse established a reputation as a socialite, and was seen as the gregarious partner to her more understated husband, with friends calling her ‘very sociable’ and Sir Martin ‘old fashioned and traditional’. 

In 1994 the couple bought Dullingham House, a 18th-century country mansion named after the sleepy Cambridgeshire village. Source: On The Market

After: Lady Lavinia smiled as she left court this afternoon, after earlier wiping away tears as the not guilty verdict was announced by the jury

None of this was denied by the prosecution, who accepted that she appeared ‘great fun to be with and loyal to the people she likes’, and ‘nice and kind to her adult friends’.

But they claimed that behind her glitzy job and her love of mixing with friends from the world of politics and law, she was said to have a more erratic personality and was prone to ‘flying off the handle’ and having ‘terrifying rages’ where she would scream abuse at people around her.

The alleged abuse of the boy was said to have happened partly during a period when she was suffering from severe depression. 

She was treated by the head of the psychiatric department at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge, and had prolonged stays in clinics and health spas such as Champneys and Shrublands near Ipswich.

She largely avoided public disgrace after she was caught shoplifting at Harrods in 1983 when she was aged 39 and had the charges dropped during an ‘in camera’ hearing at Horseferry Road magistrates court, reportedly due to her medical issues.

It was reported at the time that she had been charged with stealing two handbags, two pearl necklaces and five belts worth £358.40, as well as two carpets worth £190 from the top store on the same day.

The alleged abuse victim told the court that he tried to bury away his memories of what she had done for years and never told anyone about it before getting married and having children, and becoming ‘increasingly troubled by his recollection’. 

The man told the jury how he had been effectively ‘groomed’ by Lady Nourse and that her abuse of him became ‘normalised’ in his mind throughout the 1980s.

The court heard claims that Lady Nourse had even bought her accuser a copy of Penthouse magazine in 1985 because it contained nude pictures of singer Madonna which he wanted to see, although she said she had no recollection of it. 

Dullingham House sits in parkland designed by Humphry Repton, regarded as the successor to Capability Brown (pictured is a room with a view of the grounds) 

He told how he began talking to others about the ‘abuse’ and finally confronted Lady Nourse in January 2018, around two months after the death of her husband. 

At the time she was about to take on a new role, teaching children to read at a local school, and was a volunteer visitor at Highpoint Prison in Stradishall, Suffolk. 

The man said he wanted her to admit what she had done and accused her of failing to take responsibility after she repeatedly told him that she had no recollection of it.

The jury at a temporary Nightingale court in the Knights’ Chamber at Peterborough Cathedral heard how he eventually went to police and Lady Nourse was interviewed, but denied that any abuse had happened. 

The prosecution case was strengthened by a woman who gave evidence to say she had twice walked into a room and saw Lady Nourse carrying out a sexual act on the boy. 

The woman said that Lady Nourse and the boy were alone in the room on the first occasion and she had carried on regardless despite her presence. 

The second alleged incident happened possibly several weeks or ‘a couple of months later’ when a woman was also present and ‘smiling’ as Lady Nourse carried out the abuse in front of her, she said. 

Jonathan Caplan QC, defending Lady Nourse, suggested to the witness that the abuse did not happen. 

Lady Nourse also denied that the incidents described by the woman had happened, saying of the first incident: ‘It’s simply an impossible scenario. It’s just not true.’ 

Speaking of the second incident, she told the court: ‘It’s a disgusting thought. I am sorry it didn’t happen.’ 

A woman told the trial that she had also once walked into a room and saw the boy lying motionless in an ‘inappropriate’ position. 

Dame Mary Archer appeared as a character witness last week, describing Nourse as ‘kind hearted’ and ‘generous’, a keen flower arranger and hostess who doted on her grandchildren

The woman said she immediately walked away from the ‘quite frankly, extraordinary’ scene and had never seen anything like it before. 

She said she never mentioned it to Lady Nourse afterwards, but was so concerned that she spoke to a psychiatrist about what she saw. 

But doubt was also cast on the quality of her evidence when she admitted that she had not seen any sexual movement. 

Giving evidence in the witness box, Lady Nourse wept as she repeatedly denied indecently touching the victim and claimed that he was ‘very psychologically disturbed’.

She accused him of making up the claims to blackmail her into handing over money to him when he was an adult, saying: ‘He is most definitely lying’.

Asked why she had used the word ‘blackmail’ when the boy confronted her about the abuse, she claimed that he was ‘making demands of me’ and that ‘it seemed like it was to do with money’.

Her barrister also claimed that the victim had made a ‘determined and co-ordinated’ attempt to ‘obtain money from her’ before going to police in the hope that he could later ‘sue her as a convicted paedophile’. 

Dame Mary Archer gave evidence last week, describing Nourse as a ‘kind hearted’ and ‘generous’ woman, a keen flower arranger and hostess who doted on her grandchildren.

The solar power specialist, who is chair of the Science Museum, said she first met Nourse in 1980 when they were both living in Grantchester and Nourse asked if she would open her garden to the public as part of a scheme she was helping with.


 Former foreign secretary Sir Malcom Rifkind (above) yesterday described Nourse as ‘very gregarious’ and ‘sociable’ while giving evidence on her behalf in Peterborough

Lady Archer’s appearance at the court brought back memories of her High Court appearance in 1987 when she gave evidence on behalf of Lord Archer, who was suing the Daily Star newspaper for reporting that he had sex with a prostitute.

She said that she and Nourse had a mutual love of cats, and added: ‘She has a kind heart. She has a wide circle of friends. 

‘She is well read and I am very, very fond of her. She is one of my closest friends and one of my oldest friends to. We have shared a lot of confidences.’

At the trial, Lady Archer recalled the ‘wonderful’ yachting trips their families would go on together, as she described Nourse as ‘kind hearted’ and ‘generous’, noting that she was a keen flower arranger and hostess who doted on her grandchildren.

She went on: ‘If I say she was house proud, it’s not quite what I mean. Her two houses that I knew were perfect. She could cook and flower arrange and do the things I cannot do terribly well.

Sir Malcom Rifkind, who was defence secretary in John Major’s Government from 1992 until 1995 and foreign secretary between 1995 and 1997, also appeared as a character witness

He said of Nourse: ‘I always found her very sociable, very gregarious. I was aware that she herself had her own career. She wasn’t simply what would have been called in the olden days a housewife. She had opinions and was articulate and fun and very sociable.’

Journalist and historian Simon Heffer, a former deputy editor of the Spectator and Daily Telegraph, said he had having known the couple for 25 years and met them ‘half a dozen times a year’, including for shooting days with Sir Martin.

‘I regard Lady Nourse as one of my closest friends,’ he said. ‘I have known her for 25 years. She is a person I regard of being of complete integrity and probity who is very loyal to her friends.’  

Journalist and historian Simon Heffer also appeared as a character witness, saying he had known Nourse and her husband for 25 years

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