On the morning of Thursday, February 14 three years ago, a journalist from a national newspaper rang and asked me whether I’d heard that Wen Zhou Li had been arrested. He had seen a film series I had made about gifted young musicians at Chetham’s School of Music in Manchester and which featured Wen Zhou, an acclaimed Chinese-born violin teacher, who had worked at this prestigious school for 20 years. Was I shocked, I was asked, that he was now being accused of raping and indecently assaulting a pupil?
I was more than shocked. I was incredulous, disbelieving and horrified. I rang Wen Zhou immediately. He broke down in tears and called me back later. Yes, he had been arrested and told by the police that he was being investigated, as a former pupil had made a complaint accusing him of sexual assault when she was a teenager.
“Tamasin, the social services have taken my children,” he told me. “I’m fighting for my life.”
It has taken until March this year for his nightmare to end.
On the day of his arrest, while Wen Zhou, then 58, was being interviewed at the police station, he was warned his two sons, John, aged eight, and Jack, five, would not be allowed to stay in the family home, in Northwich, Cheshire, in case they were at risk too.
He was allowed to nominate a family friend, a teacher, who agreed to have the children to stay, and they were moved by a social worker without even seeing their father. Wen Zhou was told the teacher would act as a foster carer until social services had interviewed his wife, Li-Li, then 35, to assess the couple’s relationship.
Li-Li herself was in China when the arrest happened and heard of it through family in America, as more than 100 newspapers across the world carried the story. His international career of 20 years was in tatters.
After a discussion between police, social workers and Wen Zhou, the children were told their father was helping the police on a secret mission. When they did go back home under a supervision order, Wen Zhou was not allowed to be alone with them, to have them in the marital bed, give them a shower, take them to the loo, or help them change at the swimming pool. He moved into the spare bedroom, He says: “It was a feeling like the end of the world. I can now understand why people kill themselves.”
Following his arrest, Wen Zhou was suspended from his posts at Chetham’s and the RNCM, not knowing how long it would be before his case got to court.
It felt, he says, “like a knife hanging over my head which could drop down and kill me at any moment. I was extremely angry and resentful, but I couldn’t do anything about it. I was seen as guilty until proven innocent.
“I was treated like an enemy of the people and the State. It made me very vulnerable, but I had to be strong. I developed anxiety because I kept everything inside. The social services controlled my life.”
His passport was taken away; he wasn’t even allowed to visit friends.
There were representations from all over the world – from around 40 former students and people closest to him – I was one of them, but the fact remained: the accuser could carry on as normal, anonymously, while Wen Zhou’s life and career were in ruins, and publicly so. Of the law of anonymity for the accuser but not for the defendant, he says: “I think it should be equal. I should be protected by law as much as the accuser before I’m proven innocent or guilty.”
The fact the case against him was so weak made it all the more astonishing: Wen Zhou’s accuser had asked to be allowed to return to study under him, which she did for a number of years after the alleged incident was claimed to have taken place. Even her parents asked Wen Zhou to accept her as a pupil again.
The charge was withdrawn in March after it emerged that the complainant had made allegations against another teacher in another country, but that no charges had been brought.
“The judge said, ‘Mr Li, you can go out of the court with your head held high and no stain on your character. You are not guilty. Case dismissed.’”
Did he feel euphoria? “I had very mixed feelings; I was overwhelmed. I wanted an apology. I felt very angry towards my accuser.”
The tragedy is that this brilliant and much-admired teacher now feels he won’t ever be able to teach again. “You have to touch children when you teach them the violin, but I feel dirty if I touch them. They could accuse me at any time. I’m not prepared to put my family at risk. Society has put me in this situation and I feel sad about that.”
He was also unable to listen to music for more than 18 months after his arrest. “My heart hurt every time I listened to the violin,” he says.
A career and reputation ruined. Kids taken from their parents. Suicidal depression. Reliance on anti-depressants. Legal fees. Students who will never benefit from Wen Zhou’s expertise.
But “better a false accusation than a rape,” right?
The lie is all the more galling in that this is not the accusers first false rape accusation. And this was after the accuser asked to resume learning from Wen Zhou.
But it’s just “2%-10%,” right?
I can’t add much to this story but to point out that the Cult of “Believe Her”-ism take the same view towards men and the accused in a rape case that Chief Justice Roger B. Taney described as existing between blacks and whites in Scott v. Sandford; that the man has no rights which the woman is bound to respect.