Why did CPS hound my girl to death over a false rape claim? Father’s agony after suicide three days before trial
- Eleanor de Freitas said associate drugged and raped her in December 2012
- Police said she had not lied but dropped case because of a lack of evidence
- The rape suspect decided to spend £200,000 bringing a private prosecution
- CPS took up false rape claim case and demanded conviction at crown court
- But Eleanor, who had bipolar disorder, killed herself days before April trial
- Her father David says she and her family have been failed by justice system
- He told MailOnline: ‘If the CPS had put it at an end I’d still have a daughter’
- Eleanor’s inquest adjourned today pending a CPS investigation of her case
Tragedy: Eleanor de Freitas took her own life days before she was due to go on trial accused of making a false rape claim
A young woman who told police she was raped but killed herself after she was accused of making up the ordeal was hounded to death, her father said today.
Eleanor de Freitas, 23, was so terrified of giving evidence she took her own life on April 7 this year, three days before her trial was to start at Southwark Crown Court, South East London.
Police believed the vulnerable A-grade student, who suffered from a psychiatric illness, had told the truth about the rape when she reported it, but decided there was not enough evidence to bring a successful conviction, so closed the case.
But the Crown Prosecution Service put Miss de Freitas, who had bipolar disorder, on trial after the alleged perpetrator spent vast sums of money pursuing the matter.
David de Freitas told MailOnline today his daughter would still be alive if the CPS had not put her on trial.
‘We can see no reason whatsoever why the CPS pursued Eleanor,’ he said.
‘If the CPS had put it at an end I would still have a daughter. She would not be dead. It is as clear as that’.
She had been charged with perverting the course of justice after the man who allegedly attacked her spent £200,000 on bringing a private prosecution.
Her family today urged the coroner at her inquest to carry out a wider inquiry into whether the CPS breached her human rights by pressing ahead with the court case.
But it was adjourned pending the result of the CPS’ investigation into Eleanor’s case.
Mr de Freitas fought back tears today when he spoke of when he discovered his daughter killed herself.
He said: ‘I was stunned and so sad. I just don’t know how to describe it.’
The devastated father said the police were absolutely clear they believed her and were worried it would be ‘cruel’ to put his vulnerable daughter through a rape trial.
In particular she feared being sectioned because of her bipolar, he said.
Notes left for her family when she killed herself also referred to her fears of giving evidence.
Her father said: ‘Police believed her but decided not to prosecute because of evidence that was inconsistent. They didn’t want Eleanor to have to go on trial herself.
‘When the man she alleged raped her took out prosecution against her she was shocked and in dismay. She had been very happy at that time.
‘When she got her prosecution summons it was on the morning of a financial exam and she was in such a state of panic she had to leave during the exam.
‘Police told her they weren’t going to prosecute her but then the CPS said they’d support a private prosecution.
‘We were utterly amazed and flabbergasted that they decided to continue with the prosecution. It put her in a very low place.
Upset: Miss de Freitas’ father David, pictured today, says his daughter was failed by the justice system
Eleanor de Freitas, pictured, was charged with perverting the course of justice after the man who allegedly attacked her spent £200,000 on bringing a private prosecution then taken on by the CPS against police wishes
‘It was soul-destroying and just ground her down. She masked what she was going through and seemed on the surface to be coping well.
PRIVATE PROSECUTIONS: HOW AND WHEN CAN PEOPLE TAKE A CASE TO THE CRIMINAL COURTS?
The man Eleanor accused of rape brought a private prosecution later taken on by the CPS
The right to bring a private prosecution dates back to the earliest days of the legal system. Under UK law, anyone has the right to bring a private prosecution in front of the criminal courts.
Cases have historically been rare due to the high costs involved in investigating and pursuing such cases – meaning they are can be only within reach for the very rich.
Legal aid is not available for private prosecutions, meaning they have to be paid for by the alleged victim.
There are a number of organisations that regularly prosecute cases before the courts but do so as private individuals, using the right of any individual to bring a private prosecution. One example is the RSPCA.
According to CPS guidance, there is nothing wrong in allowing a private prosecution to run its course through to verdict and sentence.
There is no requirement for the CPS to take over a private prosecution. The fact that a private prosecution succeeds is not an indication that the case should have been prosecuted by the CPS, it says.
However, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has the power to take over private prosecutions and there will be times when the CPS will exercise this power.
This is what happened in Eleanor de Freitas’ case.
There has been a growing trend towards private prosecutions in the past few years, raising concerns about a divided justice system, which could only allow private companies or wealthy individuals to seek justice.
The most high-profile private prosecution was by the family of Stephen Lawrence in 1996. It was made against five suspects – only three of whom made it to trial – after three years of failed police investigations.
All the defendants were acquitted on the orders of the judge.
‘If only she had communicated we could have been in a position to support her.
‘But she feared that by telling people what she was going through she would be sectioned under the Mental Health Act.
‘In the end she couldn’t cope with it. It was tragic, tragic, tragic.
‘I feel the system of fairness in this country has let me down terribly.
‘Eleanor was a vulnerable young woman who made a complaint of rape as a result of which she herself became the subject of legal proceedings.
‘This was despite the fact the police did not believe there to be a case against her.’
The family’s lawyers will argue prosecutors breached Article 2 of the Human Rights Act – the right to life – by failing to consider whether there was a public interest in prosecuting the troubled young woman.
They want a full inquest, with a jury, to consider whether the CPS’ decision to take her to court contributed to her death.
Mr de Freitas said: ‘We want the truth. I understand why the CPS is carrying out its own investigation, it is appropriate, but it is too little too late.
‘It is rather like inspecting your own navel or getting a doctor to do it. That’s the difference here. A full inquest with jury would give us proper answers’.
Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders, the country’s top prosecutor, has pledged to investigate the case personally, saying it was ‘one of the most difficult I have seen’ and she shared the family’s ‘unease’.
She said: ‘I am very saddened by the tragic death of Eleanor de Freitas.
‘I have asked the team which dealt with this case for a full explanation which addresses all of the de Freitas family’s concerns.
‘I appreciate the family’s unease which is why I am looking at this personally in order to satisfy myself of the detail surrounding all the stages of the case.
‘Prosecuting cases of perverting the course of justice in connection with an alleged false rape allegation is rare, extremely difficult and always complex and sensitive.
‘This case was one of the most difficult I have seen. To say any more at this stage would be inappropriate until I can answer the de Freitas family’s concerns fully and directly.’
Eleanor’s inquest at West London Coroner’s Court was adjourned today to a later date, will examine how big a part the impending trial played in his daughter’s death.
During the short hearing it is understood Mr De Freitas claimed he was harassed after the private prosecution against his daughter was launched and reported it to police.
Speaking outside court today, family solicitor Harriet Wistrich said: ‘We’re very pleased the inquest has been adjourned following the announcement of the department of public prosecutions investigation.
‘We note Alison Saunders’ indication in her statement that she wishes to meet with the family and we look forward to meeting with her to ask questions, give her our perspective and learning more about the CPS’s-decision making.
‘We hope the inquest is broad and will address the very serious issues we have sought to raise.’
Victim Support and Justice for Women have contacted her to express concerns about the implications the case may have on people reporting rapes.
Last year violin virtuoso Frances Andrade, who was accused of lying about being abused by her music teacher, killed herself during his trial saying it was like being ‘raped again’. Michael Brewer was later found guilty of a string of sexual assaults on her.
Meeting: The head of the CPS, Alison Saunders, has promised to meet Eleanor’s family and admits she shares their ‘unease’
Campaigners expressed fears that victims could be deterred from reporting crimes in future if alleged attackers are able to use the law to intimidate them.
On January 4 last year Miss de Freitas told police she had been drugged and raped by a male associate shortly before Christmas 2012.
Detectives arrested the alleged perpetrator.
But police eventually told her the gap in time before reporting the alleged rape and the lack of forensic evidence meant there was no realistic chance of a successful conviction.
A spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Police said the force received an allegation of rape in south west London on January 4 2013.
She added: ‘The allegation was investigated by specialist officers from the Sexual Offences, Exploitation and Child Abuse Command.
‘One man was arrested but subsequently released with no further action due to lack of evidence, and the case was closed.’
Mr de Freitas said his daughter accepted the police decision and tried to get on with her life.
But the man began a private prosecution, saying she had lied about the rape.
Detectives who investigated the allegations told the CPS there was no evidence she had lied and said they would not be investigating her for perverting the course of justice.
However, for undisclosed reasons, the CPS decided to take over the prosecution of Miss de Freitas – leaving her devastated.
Both Victim Support and Justice for Women have written to Ms Saunders about the case.
Adam Pemberton, assistant chief executive of Victim Support, expressed concern about someone who has been accused of rape being able to bring a private prosecution against the complainant.
He said: ‘This is a tragic and troubling case which raises broader concerns about the use of private prosecutions against rape complainants and whether or not they are fair and appropriate in such circumstances.
‘We are concerned in principle about someone who has been accused of rape being able to bring a private prosecution against the complainant because this allows that individual to use the law to do something guaranteed to intimidate their accuser.
‘There are clearly very serious implications for the reporting of rape cases if victims fear that they may themselves end up the subject of a prosecution if their evidence is in any way inconsistent.
A spokeswoman for Justice for Women said: ‘It is essential that prosecutors are aware that by prosecuting rape complainants, when there is not overwhelming evidence that they have fabricated their complaint, we create a hostile climate which would actively discourage women from reporting rapes, as they will fear not just disbelief but prosecution, which cannot be in the public interest.’
Deborah Coles, of the charity Inquest, said: ‘This case raises serious issues of concern. In addition, Eleanor had severe mental health issues which do not appear to have been taken into account.’
Lawyers for the family will urge the coroner to postpone today’s hearing and carry it out in front of a jury.
- For confidential support call the Samaritans in the UK on 08457 90 90 90, visit a local Samaritans branch or click here
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