Express & Star

Tree dedicated to rape campaigner Jill Saward displayed at Cannock church

A Christmas tree dedicated to rape campaigner Jill Saward was displayed at the church she attended in Cannock.

Mr Drake with the tree this year

Mrs Saward, from Hednesford, was the first rape victim to waive her right to anonymity to speak about a sexual assault after being attacked at her home in 1986 while her father and boyfriend were tied up. She died unexpectedly in January after suffering a stroke, aged 51.

Each Christmas she had decorated a tree at the festival in St Luke’s Church, Cannock, to promote her campaign against sexual violence - and this year her widower, Gavin Drake, took on the job instead.

The tree contained a number of paper baubles on which were printed some of the laws that changed as a result of Jill’s campaigning work.

These include greater anonymity for victims of sexual violence, the right of victims to submit statements about the impact of the crime and a ban on defendants personally cross-examining their accusers in court.

Mr Drake, said: "Jill loved Christmas and would always have a tree at St Luke’s Christmas Tree Festival. She would dress as an elf and remain at the church during the festival to chat with members of the public who came to see the trees. It was one of the ways she would bring joy to people.

“It was a difficult experience to decorate the tree yesterday. I could feel Jill’s presence – telling me off for doing it wrong!"

The tree in memory of Jill was displayed at the church for the three days of the festival last week.

Gavin, added: “Some people may feel that sexual violence and Christmas is an odd-mix. But the reality is that Christmas is a season when many women and girls will experience violence – and especially sexual violence – at the hands of men; whether it is an abusive partner, a colleague at a workplace Christmas party, or a stranger.

“Exhibiting a tree with this theme is a simple way of continuing her work and remembering Jill and how much she loved Christmas.”

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