Northern Ireland wheelchair user spared jail after making second false rape allegation
A manipulative and attention-seeking wheelchair user who destroyed a man's life and left him suicidal after falsely claiming he raped her has walked free from Newry Crown Court with a suspended sentence.
It was the second time Gail Chambers - who has a history of wasting police time by making false allegations - had perverted the course of justice by making up a false claim that she had been raped.
It was also the second time she avoided jail.
She had concocted a "very lurid and graphic account" that she was raped in her Lurgan home in October 2015.
The court, sitting in Belfast, heard that the man she accused was arrested, had intimate samples taken and was interviewed by police.
After providing an alibi which proved he was shopping at an Asda store in Belfast at the same time Chambers claimed he was raping her, the man was released.
However, the incident has had a lasting effect on him - he had considered suicide and is having trouble living with the shame and embarrassment of being suspected of rape.
Handing 51-year-old Chambers, from Russell Drive in Lurgan, a three-year prison sentence - which was suspended for three years - Judge Melody McReynolds said that cases such as this had an impact on already stretched resources and real victims of sexual crimes. But the judge said she was taking into consideration Chambers mental and physical difficulties.
Before passing sentence, Judge McReynolds was told by a Crown prosecutor that Chambers made a false rape claim to police on October 24, 2015, and that after the allegation was made the "police machine swung into action".
Chambers, who the court heard was born with cerebral palsy and who played wheelchair rugby, was taken by police to the Rowan Sexual Assault Referral Centre in Antrim, where she was examined by a doctor.
It was here that she gave what the prosecutor described as a "lurid and graphic account", where she claimed a man she knew called to her house, tipped her out of her wheelchair then helped her back into the chair before throwing her on her bed and raping her.
She also claimed threats of violence were used, that she was left bleeding, and that afterwards her attacker had a bath then left.
Police arrested the man named by Chambers the following day, and he underwent a medical examination where a number of samples were taken. He was interviewed and later released on police bail.
As a result of the account of his movements that he gave to police, CCTV from an Asda branch in Belfast was checked. His presence in the store was confirmed - and the focus of the investigation then turned to Chambers herself.
She was interviewed in June 2017, when she refused to answer any questions. She subsequently pleaded guilty to a single charge of perverting the course of justice by making a false report that she had been raped.
The prosecutor revealed the man accused by Chambers was left "totally shocked" by the allegation and arrest, and felt "embarrassed and angry being accused of an awful crime".
In a Victim Impact Statement, the man said the incident has affected his social life as he no longer trusts people. He said "the only time I feel safe is on my own company. I feel suicidal and considered taking tablets."
The prosecutor told Judge McReynolds that Chambers' criminal record involved similar offences, including a prior false rape claim made in July 2012, for which she received a suspended sentence in October 2013. Other offences she committed, the prosecutor said, mainly involved wasting police time - such as claiming she had been stabbed, or was being threatened via texts, when she was the one sending herself the messages from a second phone.
Defence barrister Adrian Higgins started his submission by telling Judge McReynolds that Chambers had acknowledged what she did was "disgusting". He spoke of his client's low IQ, "significant" mental impairment and her obvious physical disability.
Mr Higgins said that in 2015 "she was seeking the attention of police and the medical services" as her life at the time was "distressing, dull and lonely" and this "broke the cycle of loneliness".
Accepting his client was manipulative, Mr Higgins asked Judge McReynolds to spare his client jail as she had a "unique set of circumstances" that would make a period of custody extremely difficult.
Passing sentence, Judge McReynolds spoke of the impact Chambers false claim has had on the man accused of raping her, and said: "Clearly this person suffered real shame and embarrassment because, quite frankly, mud sticks, to the extent that he had suicidal thoughts."
Speaking of "several categories of victims", the judge told Chambers: "Stretched resources and stretched professionals working with survivors of domestic and sexual violence have been used by you, effectively for attention seeking purposes."
Judge McReynolds also spoke of "genuine survivors of sexual violence whose cries of help are undermined by people like you."
The judge did, however, agree that Chambers had not come to police attention in the last three years and that her life was more settled now.