Call for prosecutors to answer for trial of alleged rape victim who killed herself
- The Guardian, Thursday 6 November 2014 19.20 GMT
The woman’s father is calling on the CPS to explain why they pursued a charge of perverting the course of justice against Eleanor de Freitas, 23, despite being told by police that there was no evidence she had lied, and in the knowledge that she was suffering from a psychiatric illness.
De Freitas killed herself in April this year, three days before her trial was due to start at Southwark crown court. In notes left for her family she described her overwhelming fear of giving evidence as a motive for taking her life.
An inquest into the death of De Freitas, an A-grade student who suffered from bipolar disorder, is due to open in west London on Friday. Lawyers for her family are calling on the coroner to postpone the hearing in order to carry out a wider inquiry in front of a jury to examine whether the CPS decision to prosecute was a contributing factor in her death.
David de Freitas, her father, said: “Eleanor was a vulnerable young woman, diagnosed with bipolar, 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.
“There are 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. It is of the utmost importance that the CPS consider very carefully whether such cases are in the public interest.”
He added: “I feel that the system of fairness in this country has let me down terribly, and something needs to be done so that this can never happen again.”
The CPS had pursued De Freitas for allegedly making up the rape allegation after the man at the centre of the claims spent £200,000 on a private prosecution, documents submitted to the inquest say.
Lawyers for the CPS were told by the detective who investigated the rape allegation that there was no evidence that she had lied, they would not be investigating her for perverting the course of justice and the crime had been recorded as rape.
De Freitas’s death has echoes of the suicide of Frances Andrade, who killed herself after being accused of lying in court about the abuse she suffered at the hands of Michael Brewer, the former director of music at Chetham’s school in Manchester.
Victim Support and Justice for Women have both written to the director of public prosecutions Alison Saunders expressing their concerns at the wider implications of the De Freitas case for rape complainants coming forward in future if alleged rapists are able to use the law to intimidate them.
In a statement, Saunders said she was concerned about the case and was investigating it personally. “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.”
She added that she would welcome the opportunity then to meet her family and said the circumstances regarding the case were “rare, extremely difficult and always complex and sensitive. This case was one of the most difficult I have seen.”
De Freitas reported to police on 4 January 2013 that she had been allegedly drugged and raped by a male associate shortly before Christmas in 2012. The police investigated the case, interviewed De Freitas and arrested the alleged perpetrator. But the police eventually told De Freitas they could not proceed further as there was not a realistic chance of a successful conviction, partly due to the fact she had reported the alleged rape some time after the event and as such no forensic evidence had been collected to support her claims. The alleged perpetrator was told there would be no further action and the case was closed.
De Freitas’s father said his daughter had accepted the police’s decision and tried to get on with her life. But the man at the centre of the rape claim began a private prosecution against her saying she had lied about the rape. Some months later lawyers for the CPS announced they were taking over the case against De Freitas. Her trial for perverting the course of justice was due to open on 7 April. On 4 April she took her own life.
On Friday Harriet Wistrich, of Birnberg Peirce and Partners, acting on behalf of the De Freitas family, will call for the West London coroner Chinyere Inyama to widen the inquest to consider whether the Crown Prosecution Service breached Article 2 of the Human Rights Act – the right to life – by failing to abide by their own code and consider whether there was a public interest in prosecuting De Freitas before going ahead with the prosecution.
Deborah Coles, co-director of the charity Inquest, said: “This case raises serious issues of concern regarding the prosecution of rape complainants. In addition, Eleanor had severe mental health issues which do not appear to have been taken into account by the Crown Prosecution Service. There must be robust scrutiny at the inquest to explore how these issues of public interest impacted on her life.”
Adam Pemberton, assistant chief executive of the charity Victim Support, said the “tragic and troubling case” raised broader concerns about the use of private prosecutions against rape complainants.
“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,” he said