Belfast Telegraph

Alleged rape victim awarded £15k for police failings

Mr Justice McAlinden held that the Northern Ireland woman's human rights were breached (stock photo)
Mr Justice McAlinden held that the Northern Ireland woman's human rights were breached (stock photo)

By Alan Erwin

A vulnerable alleged rape victim is to be awarded £15,000 for failings in the police investigation into her complaint, a High Court judge in Belfast has ruled.

Mr Justice McAlinden held that the Northern Ireland woman's human rights were breached by the operational and systemic shortcomings identified.

He said: "I have no hesitation in concluding that an award of damages in this case is necessary to afford the plaintiff just satisfaction."

The woman, who is in her thirties and has Asperger's syndrome, reported being raped by a man during a night out in June 2007.

A decision was subsequently taken not to prosecute the alleged assailant, who maintained that any activity was consensual.

But in the first lawsuit of its kind in Northern Ireland, the woman sued the PSNI over its handling of the investigation.

Referred to as C, she claimed the flawed probe violated her entitlement to freedom from inhuman or degrading treatment under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Her lawyers argued that she went on to suffer distress, psychiatric injuries, depression, psychotic symptoms and an eating disorder.

The court heard police only interviewed C six months after the date of the alleged attack.

Following the no-prosecution decision, her family lodged a complaint with the Police Ombudsman.

In 2009 the watchdog recommended at least two police officers be subjected to disciplinary sanctions over the handling of the case.

The Ombudsman concluded that the PSNI probe was neither full nor proper, and did not meet the basic principles of investigation. He also found:

  • Officers initially visited the location of the suspected sex attack, but did not seize any possible CCTV footage or conduct house to house inquiries for further witnesses.
  • Although C's mother said her diary may contain information relevant to the alleged rape, no attempt was made to retrieve the book.
  • Police failed to follow up claims that C may have received text messages asking her not to proceed with her allegations.
  • No initial statements were taken from those who were with the woman on the night in question, or from anyone in the taxi firm she used to get home.

The Chief Constable at the time, Sir Hugh Orde, wrote to the woman's family stating that she had suffered an "horrendous attack".

His letter went on to say: "In this case I believe it is only right that I offer an apology, not only to C, but also to the wider family for any distress which may have been caused."

Since then new guidelines have been produced and a specialist rape crime unit introduced.

Ruling on the action, Mr Justice McAlinden found the woman had been the victim of a serious sexual assault where no consent was given.

He identified a delay in conducting an achieving best evidence interview, adding that a number of the Ombudsman's criticisms of the police investigation were justified.

"The operational failings in this case cannot be described as minor or insignificant," the judge said.

"These failings occurred against a background of systemic shortcomings in relation to training."

He went on: "I have no hesitation in making a declaration that the plaintiff's Article 3 rights were breached by reason of the failings in the defendant's investigation into her complaint of rape."

Turning to the appropriate remedy, Mr Justice McAlinden held that C would have experienced some upset and frustration at the shortcomings.

But he concluded that her severe psychiatric and psychological deterioration would still have occurred even if the police probe had been flawless.

He confirmed: "I consider that the appropriate award of damages in this case is the sum of £15,000."

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