‘I didn’t have to ask him, I knew it wasn’t true’
The long-term partner of Craig McLachlan says she felt helpless to stop the decimation of his character - but the weight of her silence "is about to end".
Vanessa Scammell, a conductor and musical director, says no one was interested in the opinion of a "strong, independent career woman" because it didn't fit the narrative surrounding McLachlan's fall from grace.
Taking a swipe at what she described as society's penchant for vilifying people publicly before they've been convicted of a crime, Scammell said McLachlan, charged with sexually assaulting four of his co-stars, was "strategically targeted" and made a real-life villain despite his "impeccable reputation" in the entertainment industry.
"It remains unfathomable that your life can unravel in an instant with unsubstantiated allegations and headlines," Scammell said of her partner's three-year battle to clear his name.
Speaking exclusively ahead of tonight's tell-all documentary on Seven, she labelled the couple's ordeal as a "travesty" that will never make sense to her.
"The ripples of destruction it caused are beyond measure," she said.
Scammell, who met McLachlan while working the musical production of Chicago in 2009, says she never once asked her partner whether he was guilty of assaulting cast members in the 2014 Rocky Horror show season. She says she didn't have to.
"I didn't have to ask Craig if any of it was true, I knew," but her opinion "never mattered".
"Firstly, what people don't realise, is that I was present at the Rocky Horror Show of 2014 on an almost nightly basis.
"But secondly and quite simply, I have the most amazing relationship with Craig and I never had a shadow of a doubt about his innocence.
"I was not heard because no one wanted to hear from me. I was never part of the narrative because as an educated, successful career woman, that wasn't going to assist the public decimation of my partner."
Scammell, whose credits include musical directing the Australian 2007 tour of The Phantom of the Opera and most recently the Australian Symphony Orchestra Birds of Tokyo tour and Vera Blue with the Sydney and Melbourne Symphony Orchestras, said the extraordinary attack on McLachlan, and his "continued torture and execution" was unjust.
McLachlan, who played the flamboyant Frank-n-Furter in the Rocky Horror Show, was found not guilty in December 2020 of seven counts of indecent assault and six counts of common law assault.
The allegations included touching a woman's genitalia over her costume on stage, tongue kissing a woman while singing and touching a women's thigh while on a 2m-high platform.
In her judgment, Magistrate Belinda Wallington said while she accepted some of the evidence
and found the female accusers "credible", she found it did not meet the high criminal standards required to prove the charges.
Referring to him as "egocentric" however, Magistrate Wallington said his "self-entitled sense of humour" may have led him to believe the victims were consenting to his acts.
Asked whether McLachlan's ability to immerse himself into his role as a sexual deviant in Rocky Horror could have blurred the lines between theatre and reality, Scammell responded: "What it did do was it gave the media explicit imagery from this show to use to link Craig to the allegations. The bottom line is this, he and everyone else on that stage was acting.
"During court proceedings the Rocky Horror Show cast of 2014 were revealed as being a collective group who were all involved in a lot of mucking around."
Their behaviour was "ostensibly affectionate and camp".
"(Some cast members) would kiss and hug him, sit on his lap, try to pull his pants down, post images of themselves straddling his thigh and so on," she said.
"These actions I witnessed when in the theatre, and the evidence was presented to the magistrate in court, yet Craig is the only person being labelled by the magistrate as egocentric and self entitled."
Scammell rejects the personality profile outright.
"It's just not who Craig is. He is neither egocentric or self-entitled," she said.
"In over 30 years in the entertainment business Craig has a reputation for treating everyone with kindness and care. He loves to make people laugh and is fun to be around."
"Perplexed" by the magistrate's summation, Scammell said the fact the prosecution had failed to prove McLachlan had committed any offence should have been enough. And legal commentary suggesting the result could have been different had he been accused a year later, when laws testing consent were tightened, "makes no sense" to her.
"How can anyone respond to that? It's not a fair or necessary comment at all," she said.
Scammell is "angry, very angry", about the "trauma and devastation" wreaked upon them without ever been given "the slightest indication that anything was amiss".
"The duplicitous nature of what has happened to us is frankly staggering," she said.
McLachlan is suing the ABC, Fairfax (now part of Nine) and an actress for defamation over the reports he indecently assaulted, harassed and bullied his cast members. The media organisations are defending the proceedings, relying on the defences of truth and contextual truth.
The ABC this week reported further details of documents in the defamation case, released by the Supreme Court, outlining other allegations against McLachlan.
A believer in silver linings, Scammell says she and her partner will fight for legislative change, so that other alleged perpetrators and alleged victims cannot be named publicly until court proceedings are complete.
"Any allegation published or broadcast that hasn't been tested first, in thorough legal terms, is dangerous," she said.
"There needs to be a spotlight shone on this age where social media platforms are at the ready to climb on to express outrage and to perpetrate unsubstantiated claims.
"The result is the decimation of people's reputations, families lives and livelihoods."
She warned social media "campaigns" to expose predators and give victims of sexual assault a voice could easily be hijacked and destroy innocent people.
"It is very unfortunate that a movement that was intended to be so helpful has been hijacked, ambushed and misused," she said.
"It's almost impossible for movement followers to recognise who is genuine and who is sabotaging the cause."
Scammell, who boasts a distinguished career in her own right, has emerged professionally unscathed despite the intense public scrutiny.
"My career has not suffered and I did not ever have a moment where I even thought about having to hang my head in any sort of shame," she explained.
On the night the allegations first surfaced she conducted a main stage production with Opera Australia at the Sydney Opera House. Supported by her "beautiful mum and dad and sisters" she got through it.
"I was in safe hands," she said.
"Music is a sanctuary, as are the artists and musicians with whom I collaborate. I am so grateful and fortunate to be surrounded by love and respect and beautiful music."
Even so, nothing can ever make the pain palatable.
"No amount of money would ever be enough and I will never make up those sleepless nights," Scammell reflects.
While McLachlan tinkered on the edge, Scammell helped him find his way through their chaos.
"Strength comes in many forms. Truth. Family. Friends. Knowledge. And although it's been the toughest three years of our life, Craig has shown the most strength of us all."
Despite his failed suicide attempt and catastrophic breakdown, McLachlan has dusted himself off, one day at a time.
"Our future is bright, I can assure you," Scammell said.
"We are determined to make our mark.
"I am so proud of him for standing up and not letting this destroy him. For being brave enough to tell his story. Our story."
7NEWS Spotlight: Horror Show premieres 7pm tonight on Channel 7
Originally published as 'I didn't have to ask him, I knew it wasn't true'