A woman who was forced to close her business as she fought a libel battle with the man who she publicly named accusing him of sexually assaulting her got a birthday present she never dreamed of.

Nina Cresswell had no idea how her world would change when she published a series of social media posts naming William Hay as the man who maintains attacked her in 2010 while she was a student.

And she celebrated her 33rd birthday by winning a landmark ruling in the High Court vindicating her decision to bravely speak of her experience as the #MeToo campaign swept the nation.

Ms Cresswell faced a claim for £70,000 damages from the Glasgow-based tattoo artist she met in a Sunderland nightclub when she was celebrating the end of her second year at university.

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On Thursday, The Honourable Mrs Justice Heather Williams DBE said the ‘statutory defence of truth’ had been established when she published the court’s ruling in favour of the County Durham-based copywriter.

The Northern Echo: Nina CresswellNina Cresswell (Image: Good Law Project)

Speaking of her three-year legal battle, Ms Cresswell said: “It had just taken over my life, even when you are having a good time when you are out and about it was always at the back of my mind – I just couldn’t stop thinking about it.

“You can’t get out of it either because once you are in it there’s no escape.

“It was a big decision to make and it certainly wasn’t a flippant decision but I still got sued for it.”

After learning about the ruling in her favour, she said: “It was so healing to hear it from a third party and just any third party but someone of the judge’s stature.

“The irony is that he was taking me to court to try and vindicate himself.”

Mr Hay reported her Facebook posts to police and sued her for libel, saying her allegations were false and completely denied sexually assaulting Ms Cresswell.

He said the “publications” caused him “great embarrassment, distress and damage to his reputation” and wanted damages.

Explaining her decision to publish the social media posts, Ms Cresswell said: “I was not expecting it to take over my life. I thought it would be met with ‘whatever’ and he would be able to continue working as a tattooist.

“I thought it would some become yesterday’s news but then the legal proceedings started and it became a full-time job – I was self-employed at the time and I had to stop that because I was basically my own lawyer for the first year.

“It consumed everything, I had to buy books and learn all about defamation law – it was so draining.

“The only way out of it for me was to pay his legal costs, take down the posts, and to apologise – I would never ever apologise. He wanted me to say that I had made it all up.

“In cases like this it is hard to tell who is telling the truth but thankfully, in this case, the judge said one of had to be telling the truth and he had changed his story throughout it – I’m really pleased that she did make that decision.”

The Northern Echo: Royal Courts of Justice in LondonRoyal Courts of Justice in London

The judge criticised Northumbria Police’s initial investigation after they quickly decided not to treat Ms Cresswell’s complaint of sexual assault as a crime.

She said: “The officers also placed too much weight on CCTV footage from (a bar), failed to undertake the fuller investigation that was warranted and prematurely assessed and rejected her credibility, deciding not to treat the defendant’s allegation as a crime within hours of her first report to police.”

Ms Cresswell said she hopes that all police forces across the country have moved on from the attitude and approach she endured when she first reported her experience in 2010.

She said: “If I hadn’t thought that at the end of this that there could be something that could help people, I could have thrown the towel in a long time ago.

“If it was just for me, I would think I know the truth and that’s all that matters, but because he wanted me to apologise - I was never going to do that – but if I had thrown the towel then I would have just been another statistic.

“The more people that do speak about it (sexual assaults) then the more people know that these are not just one offs. The way the police handle cases like this is now coming to light more, hopefully, there will start to be more change there.”

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Speaking of the toll that the legal process can have on victims of sexual abuse, she said: “A lot of people don’t get the point I am now, they don’t ever get to see the verdict and that is because they often take their own lives.

The Northern Echo: Nina CresswellNina Cresswell (Image: CrownJustice)

“There have been countless cases of that and I can understand the pain they have felt because going through it – you not only have to go through the sexual assault but you then have to relive it second by second and be told that you are a liar publicly.

“It was unbearable at times and that is the sad thing. I never thought I would survive it but I guess other people can and I hope it can shine a bit of light for other people who might be in that situation.”

Mr Hay has always denied sexually assaulting Ms Cresswell.