Toronto Star

Oct. 12, 2000, 02:00 EDT

Woman lied about assault trial is told

Charges dropped after girlfriend retracts 911 call

Tracey Tyler
Legal Affairs Reporter
The Toronto Star

Charges against a well-known CBC broadcaster and parolee were dismissed yesterday after his girlfriend told the court she cooked up a story about being beaten by him because she wanted to "pay him back" for ending their relationship.

Valerie Phillips said she was angry Robert (Rosie) Rowbotham walked out on her after becoming fed up with her substance abuse, so she phoned 911 after a day of boozing and pill-popping to allege she'd been physically assaulted.

"I was drinking all day long, then I was hooked on tranquilizers and just rolling down drunk, basically," she testified in the Ontario Court of Justice.

"Doesn't anybody ever have a breakdown and just lose it once in a while? I made a mistake and I'm very sorry."

Rowbotham, 50, who is on parole from a 20-year federal sentence for orchestrating a huge marijuana-smuggling conspiracy, was charged with assault and threatening death after Phillips' July 30 call. He pleaded not guilty yesterday in a court filled with supporters.

Phillips testified that soon after the 911 call she began trying to explain that her story was a lie, but by then the case had become caught up in police and court bureaucracies and nobody wanted to listen.

Constable Jennifer Ryan told the court that when she arrived at the couple's Bathurst St. apartment, it was obvious Phillips had been drinking.

Ryan said Phillips informed her she had a criminal record for perjury. But the officer said she was not going to "prejudge" her story on the basis of that conviction and made no mention of it in her notes.

"How they could take my story seriously is beyond me," Phillips told the court.

Ryan said Phillips, taken to 32 Division, refused to give a videotaped statement and left. Meanwhile, the Children's Aid Society was called to assess whether her children should be returned to her.

Phillips told the court that officers threatened to take her two daughters away unless she signed a statement accusing Rowbotham of assault. She refused because it wasn't true, and her children ended up in CAS care, she said.

Phillips said she had tried contacting Crown Attorney Margo MacKinnon three times to explain the story was a lie, but her calls weren't returned.

"If you really felt that I was such a victim, why wouldn't anyone help me?" Phillips asked, adding that she was suicidal and having "a nervous breakdown" as a result of several other stressful events.

The only person who did help was Rowbotham, who, despite being in custody, arranged for her to receive psychiatric treatment, she said.

After playing a tape of the 911 call, MacKinnon told Mr. Justice Stephen Foster the crown was inviting him to dismiss the charges for lack of evidence.

But Rowbotham will stay in jail until the parole board decides whether to revoke his parole suspension.

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