Toronto Star

Oct. 27, 2001, 02:00 EDT

Free again, Rowbotham aims to marry accuser

Tracey Tyler
Legal Affairs Reporter
The Toronto Star

MILLHAVEN, Ont. — A CBC broadcaster walked out of prison yesterday vowing to marry the woman whose allegations helped put him there.

Robert (Rosie) Rowbotham, 50, won back his freedom after the National Parole Board scrapped its decision to suspend his parole and complimented his "outstanding" success as a parolee. "There's evidence you've turned the corner and become a pro-social person," said Michael Crowley, who chaired a parole board hearing packed with Rowbotham supporters.

Across the table from Crowley sat Rowbotham, clad in the green prison jacket he thought he had left behind. He was paroled five years ago after serving nearly two-thirds of a 20-year sentence for a marijuana conspiracy.

In July, he was taken into custody again after his common-law wife accused him of assaulting her. Valerie Phillips, who had a previous conviction for perjury, recanted her allegations at a trial that ended in Rowbotham's acquittal earlier this month.

But the parole board was not prepared to lift the parole suspension it invoked when he was charged until it had conducted its own hearing.

Though that decision was widely criticized, Crowley said, there were "legitimate" reasons to be concerned that Rowbotham might present a risk to Phillips if released. The courts are filled with cases of women who recant abuse allegations and resume living with their alleged abusers, he said.

Moreover, the board had information that Rowbotham went missing for periods in June and July and made disturbing remarks about women when he was charged, Crowley said. He allegedly told his parole officer that Phillips was a "crazy, minimally educated pill-popper" and that proving his innocence would be tough because the legal system "protects anyone who urinates while sitting down."

Rowbotham explained that he was "frustrated" and "bewildered" after being charged. He said it was untrue he went underground; he had been working on a TV documentary at a Hells Angels clubhouse under police surveillance. Officials could easily have found him, he said, but never called him at work or on his cell phone.

Rowbotham said the publicity has been "embarrassing," but is grateful it led the couple to counselling. He intends to marry Phillips, he said.

"I love her dearly," he said. "We've been together 3 1/2 years, and for 2 1/2 years she's been the most wonderful woman I've ever met."

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