A successful young tradie who had his life torn apart after being wrongly accused of drugging and raping a hip law student believes they’re both victims of the ‘MeToo Movement’ gone mad.
It took Victoria Police eight long months to receive the forensic drug results Phoenix Cooper believed would clear his name.
But when they came back negative – he was charged anyway.
The woman Mr Cooper had picked-up at a trendy nightspot in Melbourne‘s inner east was supposedly convinced by her law student mates that he must have drugged her.
Phoenix Cooper was wrongly accused of drugging and raping a woman he had simply hit-it-off with at a trendy pub. The woman’s law student mates described him as ‘some random’
Phoenix Cooper was forced to employ high-priced barrister Philip Dunn, QC (right) to defend himself at the Supreme Court of Victoria
How else could ‘some random’ – as her mate’s later described the tradie – have gone home with their well-to-do Brighton mate who was on the path to becoming a hot shot lawyer.
On May 6, Mr Cooper, now aged 25, was found unanimously not guilty by a Supreme Court of Victoria jury of raping the woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons.
The trial had been held at the state’s highest criminal court due to one of the alleged victim’s mates’ strong connections to the County Court of Victoria, where rape trials are usually held.
CCTV played to that jury had shown Mr Cooper kiss the woman three times while enjoying a cigar outside Elsternwick’s Antique Bar on April 20, 2019.
They would leave together hand-in-hand shortly after to catch an Uber to his St Kilda East apartment – a short ride from where they had hit-it-off.
Both had enjoyed a good deal of booze, but the ‘memory fade’ of his ‘date’ that night would come back to haunt them both.
The tradie, who owns and operates his own successful company, had faced 25-years behind bars had he been convicted of the crime.
Mr Cooper spoke to Daily Mail Australia this week in the hope that other young men don’t wind up behind bars after a drunken hook-up.
‘Why did nobody put the brakes on this? Why has it gone this far? Imagine you had a son and your son was in a situation like this? Or a mate? Or a brother? It could happen to anyone,’ he said.
Mr Cooper believes he inadvertently became embroiled in the ‘MeToo Movement’ – a social movement against sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and rape culture, in which people publicise their experiences of sexual abuse or sexual harassment.
‘Look, don’t get me wrong, I believe in the MeToo Movement. But this is wrong. This is not rape in any world. There are guys going through this every single day that are facing years in prison and they can’t afford proper legal support and end up in jail on flimsy, flimsy charges,’ he said.
Mr Cooper, who was represented by top Melbourne silk Philip Dunn, QC, said his defence cost more than $200,000.
Walk of Shame: Phoenix Cooper was chased down the road and photographed after wrongly being accused of raping a drunken law student, who was convinced by her mates that he had done wrong. Cooper is pictured with lawyer Zyg Zayler from Melasecca Kelly Zayler
Despite his life being turned upside down, his business damaged and reputation dragged through the mud, the young tradie still expressed empathy for the woman who had pursued the rape claims.
‘In my opinion, by them pushing this forward, not only did they obviously put me through hell, but they put this girl through hell by having to go through a trial that she was never going to win,’ Mr Cooper said.
‘I mean, she was a victim too, because her mates absolutely convinced her she had been drugged.’
In hindsight, several false moves had decided both Mr Cooper and the woman’s fate.
She had made the mistake of leaving her purse and house keys behind at the venue.
He had made the mistake of answering the phone when her mates phoned him up to return them.
It was the decent thing to do, Mr Cooper told Daily Mail Australia.
The short version goes: after briefly having sex with the woman at his home, Mr Cooper welcomed her worried mates inside to collect her.
She had only been at his house for 45 minutes.
In an Uber with the law students – both now lawyers – she was convinced by them that Mr Cooper had drugged her.
Distraught at the suggestion, and having consumed the equivalent of somewhere between double and four times the legal alcohol limit to drive a car, the woman agreed to be taken to hospital to be forensically analysed with a view to allege rape.
The jury heard the woman recorded a 15 out of 15 on the Glascow Coma Scale – a clinical test used to reliably measure a person’s level of consciousness after a brain injury – a little under an hour after the alleged rape.
‘Her friends convinced her that she had been drugged … In her mind, she probably felt like she was drugged. She didn’t know what was going on. It’s just a really bad sequence of events that led into this,’ Mr Cooper said.
When questioned, Mr Cooper immediately made open and full admissions to both police and the woman about what had happened at his apartment that night.
Mr Cooper’s supposed victim had been trawling dating sites in the hours before she hooked-up with him at Elsternwick’s Antique Bar in 2019
Mr Cooper and the woman were captured on CCTV on these seats enjoying kisses before leaving together. She would later claim to have no memory of having sex with him
FORMER NRL PLAYER TRISTAN SAILOR FOUND NOT GUILTY
In March, the son of Australian rugby league and union legend Wendell Sailor was found not guilty of a similar allegation of rape.
Tristan Sailor, 23, faced NSW District Court trial after the woman said she could not remember having oral, vaginal and anal sex him in 2020.
Like Cooper, the woman had been captured on CCTV drinking, touching and hugging each other.
Both of them had been blind drunk when they later went into her bedroom and had sex.
The woman said she ‘blacked out’ and assumed she had sex without giving consent the next day.
Sailor had been on the cusp of following in his father’s footsteps and making his NRL debut for the St George Illawarra Dragons when he was charged.
Last month, Souths Logan Magpies, one of the Broncos feeder clubs, confirmed it had signed the former Dragons utility.
Months later, when the drug results came back negative, detectives charged Mr Cooper with rape all the same.
‘The police didn’t actually perform any investigation until the drugs came back negative,’ Mr Cooper said.
The jury heard the alleged victim repeatedly contacted police asking them to charge Mr Cooper upon learning the drug results.
‘She’s a victim. And she writes the note saying ‘I want and need him charged’. She’s making contact with the police, taking an active role in it,’ Mr Dunn told the jury.
‘Why does she need him charged … the defence suggests because she’s now an entrenched victim.’
While Mr Cooper had been desperate to enter the witness box and tell the jury what happened that night, he accepted legal advice not to.
The alleged victim had given her side of the story in open court, but under the law it is unable to be viewed – and therefore reported – by anyone other than the jury, judge and barristers involved in the hearing.
Mr Cooper, who is in the process of filing an official complaint with Victoria Police’s Ethical Standards Department, claimed he had been the victim of a ‘one-sided’ investigation.
‘The (police) spent hours with (the woman) and her university mates, but 30 minutes with me. It’s like their mind was made up that I was guilty,’ he said.
Victoria’s Director of Public Prosecutions Kerri Judd, QC had ticked-off on the prosecution arguing the woman clearly must have been asleep or too drunk to give consent to sex.
Philip Dunn, QC (right) convinced the jury Phoenix Cooper (left) had no reason in the world to think the woman had not consented to jumping on top of him and having sex
Under the law, a person cannot be convicted of rape if the jury accepts they had a ‘reasonable belief’ that consent was given.
It was an unusual prosecution considering the absence of drugs in the woman’s system, CCTV footage showing the couple leaving the venue and the woman’s total lack of memory.
The jury had heard it was the woman who had stripped off and climbed on top of Mr Cooper in bed.
Mr Cooper said ordinary blokes who dare to go home with a woman after a night on the drink ought think twice.
‘I mean you go home with a girl, she’s all over you, she’s kissing you, you’re making out at the table, you’re having cigars, you get asked where you live and you get in an Uber together and she’s coming back to your house, she’s kissing you, she sits on top of you and has sex with you. You don’t think that you’ve done anything wrong,’ he said.
‘Anybody could be put into this situation if you’re out drinking and you’re at a bar and you meet a girl. This could happen to anybody and you think every single weekend people are out and guys are going home with girls. It’s bound to happen more and more and I believe the laws need to be looked at.’
The jury was told Phoenix Cooper sported tattoos (pictured) and had been a bit of a bragger. He now struggles to trust women
Forensic doctors found the only substance in the woman’s system had been the large amount of booze she had consumed at the Antique Bar (pictured)
Mr Cooper pondered why an equally intoxicated woman’s claims were held in higher regard with Victorian authorities than a male.
‘The man is held to a standard of being sober, which I think is wrong,’ he said.
‘This is happening to more and more guys because of this law … you know drunken hook-ups and a girl can’t remember the next day. But just because she can’t remember doesn’t mean there’s not consent. ‘
Mr Cooper said he was unlikely to ever attempt to take a woman home from the pub again.
‘The stress of the trial – being called a rapist and fighting for your life – it has severely impacted my relationships, my work life and put a hold on my life for over three years,’ he said.
‘It’s hard for me to trust women anymore and finding a relationship is not something I want to do at the moment.’
HOW A DRUNKEN FLING TURNED INTO A RAPE ALLEGATION
A jury heard the woman had not been keen to talk to her mates after she left the club with Phoenix Cooper.
When she didn’t pick-up the phone, her uni mate managed to track Cooper’s phone number down thanks to his previous bragging.
When he finally picked-up the phone some 20 minutes after leaving the bar, Cooper claimed she didn’t want to speak.
Unconvinced, her law student friend – now in an Uber himself – continued to demand he speak with her.
‘I’m fine, I’m fine,’ the woman told him.
Concerned about the slurring of her speech, he asked and was provided Cooper’s address so that he could come and check on her.
After that conversation, the woman got out of bed with Cooper and went to the toilet.
When she attempted to return to the bedroom, the jury heard she ended up in the bed of Cooper’s born-again-Christian housemate, who promptly returned her to the correct bedroom.
At 1.20am, the woman’s friends arrived at Cooper’s apartment complex and called him again.
‘Darling your friends are here,’ Cooper was heard to say.
But when Cooper failed to bring the woman down within 10 minutes, her mates proceeded to wake-up the entire complex by pressing every doorbell.
When Cooper and the woman finally went downstairs, it was noted she had no shoes on and her clothes were on back-to-front.
He would later tell police he had never seen his friend in such a state in the eight years he’d known her.
He further claimed when all four of them went back up into Cooper’s apartment to retrieve the shoes, she mouthed the words ‘help me’.
The court heard the woman’s two friends took her to hospital after she vomited in the Uber upon leaving Cooper’s pad.
When cops met up with Cooper days later he freely admitted to having sex with the woman.
Cooper’s barrister told the jury the reason his client hadn’t opened the door for the woman’s friends when they arrived that morning was because they were in the process of having sex, which Mr Cooper freely admitted when he finally opened the door.