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Decision not to prosecute alleged rapist to be reviewed after Carrick woman refuses to give up

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Leigh Collins from Carrickfergus.

Leigh Collins from Carrickfergus.

Leigh Collins from Carrickfergus.

The Public Prosecution Service is reviewing a decision not to prosecute a man accused of raping a young Co Antrim woman.

Leigh Collins (21), from Carrickfergus, said she went “above and beyond” to try and bring her alleged attacker to justice.

She was 18 when she says she was attacked in June 2017 by someone she considered a friend in her home town.

Last November — after a two and a half year wait — she was told that the case would not be brought to court.

Now officials are reviewing their decision, following pressure from the young woman.

Ms Collins has waived her right to anonymity to share her story — and quest to bring her alleged attacker to justice — with this newspaper.

She recalled how, after reporting the attack to police, she was taken to the Rowan Centre where she underwent an examination.

“The actual examination itself was so violating,” she said.

“It was awful, they went through one part of your body at a time and took photographs of it and any marks on your body. I needed to give another statement then to an officer from the rape crime unit.”

Ms Collins was interviewed several more times by different police officers. In once instance an officer went to her place of work to gather CCTV evidence.

She said she felt communication from police was poor throughout her case.

“The police had taken my phone and bed linen and clothes and loads of other things,” she said. “I didn’t want them to take my phone — it took two and a half years for me to get it back. Whenever I called the police, they were very vague.”

She later moved away from Carrickfergus, where her family lives, after struggling with seeing her alleged attacker on a regular basis.

After two and a half years, she was told by a police officer in November that a decision had been made by the PPS not to bring her case to court.

“The police officer called me at 9.30am when I was walking in to work and it just floored me,” she recalled. “I just went home. I said I wanted to request a meeting with the PPS.

“Up until then I was still willing to do anything I could to find out why it was dropped.”

Ms Collins said she was blindsided by the decision, adding: “I jumped through every hoop they wanted me to and I wasn’t being stand-offish. I told them everything I know.”

The decision led to a meeting a week later where Ms Collins tried to find out why her case was not prosecuted.

The Belfast Telegraph put Ms Collins’ complaint to the PPS to ask why that decision was taken.

A PPS spokesperson said: “The Public Prosecution Service takes any concerns raised by complainants very seriously.

“The decision in this case was taken after careful consideration by an experienced Senior Public Prosecutor and our Code for Prosecutors was applied.

“It is important that complainants clearly understand the reasons for decisions taken. In this case, the reasons for the decision were explained to the complainant in writing and a meeting took place with the prosecutor where further detail was given.

“We were contacted last week by a representative of the complainant and made aware of the issues she has raised.

“In light of these concerns, we have decided proactively to conduct a review of the decision taken not to prosecute in connection with this matter. As this review is under way, we cannot comment on the specific details raised by the complainant.

“We remain fully committed to robustly prosecuting all serious sexual offences, where the Test for Prosecution is met.”

A PSNI spokesperson said: “All allegations of sexual crime are taken seriously by PSNI and are thoroughly investigated by specially trained detectives within Public Protection Branch.

“This case was robustly investigated by specialist Rape Crime Unit detectives after initial accounts were taken by the first responding uniform officers.

“A suspect was arrested and questioned on a number of occasions, numerous witnesses were interviewed, physical evidence recovered and a file was submitted to the PPS.”

Ms Collins said she is not sure what she would tell another person who was deciding whether to report a sexual assault.

“I wouldn’t want anyone to go through what I went through with the justice system,” she said. “I feel quite empowered knowing I’m doing everything I can, I wouldn’t be able to settle if I didn’t.

“I had the drive to do the things they should have been doing for me, but if someone didn’t have that, it would be even harder for them.”

Ms Collins said she is undergoing counselling with sexual abuse counselling service Nexus and that her family have been supportive of her case.

She added: “I’m okay talking about the facts, but the feelings, I am really struggling and day-to-day life is hard.

“I would advise people to be prepared for the worst outcome. I felt like it was my fault and like they thought I was lying, which isn’t the case — everyone is disheartened when the PPS verdict comes back.

“Whenever your case gets to court, I know the jury is unpredictable — but at least his name would be out there. It is heartbreaking.”

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