Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 30 September 2014

Abuse witness 'issue' examined

Frances Andrade took a fatal overdose days after being 'extremely traumatised' by testifying about abuse she suffered as a teenager at the hands of a former choirmaster

The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) said she recognised the "real issue" over whether victims and witnesses are treated fairly after the death of a sex abuse victim sparked calls for reform.

Alison Saunders said she was examining ways to "rebalance" the process in order to reduce the stress caused by the prospect of appearing in court.

The coroner who conducted the inquest into the death of concert violinist Frances Andrade is writing to Ms Saunders calling for specific changes to avoid further such tragedies.

Ms Andrade took a fatal overdose days after being "extremely traumatised" by testifying about abuse she suffered as a teenager at the hands of a former choirmaster.

The inquest heard from her husband that she sunk into "incredible despair" after enduring a tense cross-examination and "felt the defence barrister seemed to be attacking her personally".

The day before the mother-of-three was found dead, the judge had ordered the jury to deliver a number of not-guilty verdicts because of principles of law.

Her abuser was jailed for six years for five counts of indecent assault two months later.

Coroner Richard Travers said a failure to explain to the violinist why the not-guilty verdicts had been ordered was wrong and was writing to the DPP to call for explanations to be offered in future.

He said: "Such matters, if left unexplained, could have a devastating effect on a complainant, who might well take it to be a reflection of the evidence that they have given."

He also wants the DPP to ensure that advice about the psychiatric counselling available to vulnerable victims is clarified.

Mr Travers said he could not be sure she intended to kill herself and ruled out a verdict of suicide.

Ms Saunders told BBC1's Andrew Marr Show that wide-ranging changes were already under consideration.

"There is a real issue about are they being treated fairly and that's why I am looking at how we might rebalance the process so that it is a little fairer for victims and witnesses to give evidence," she said.

"We are looking at talking to witnesses and victims before they go to court, telling them a little bit more than we do at present about what they are going to face.

"All of this has to be done within the confines of...making sure the defendant is able to have a fair trial. But there is more we can do."

She said that her own conversations with victims had revealed that the anxiety ahead of the case was often worse than the experience of appearing in court itself.

While there was no question of witnesses being c oached or rehearse, they might be told what the defence case was going to be, she suggested.

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