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Payout for woman raped in Egypt

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has apologised and agreed to pay compensation after failing to provide proper support to a British woman after she was raped by a military officer in Egypt.

A investigation by the Parliamentary Ombudsman Dame Julie Mellor has found the FCO was guilty of "maladministration and injustice" after the woman turned to it for help when she was assaulted in May 2011.

Simon Fraser, the Permanent Under-Secretary and Head of the Diplomatic Service, said they had "unreservedly" apologised to the woman and taken steps to ensure there was no repeat of her treatment.

In her report, Dame Julie said that although the woman - referred to only as Ms M - had clearly been frightened and vulnerable, officials at the British Embassy in Cairo failed to explain clearly how they could help her.

They did not arrange a medical examination or offer to accompany her to a hospital and had no knowledge of post-exposure prophylaxis - a treatment which can prevent HIV infection after the virus has entered the body.

In particular, the report said officials did not accompany her to report the attack, and failed to appreciate her fears that she could be arrested or even killed if she made a complaint against a military officer to the police who were themselves under the control of the military.

"Ms M was far away from home, she had been through a terrifying ordeal, and the FCO were the only authority she could approach for help. She should have been able to rely on them to fulfil their role and assist her when she was at her most vulnerable," the report said.

Ms M's ordeal began when she was stopped at a checkpoint while travelling in the Sinai region, three months after the revolution which overthrew President Hosni Mubarak.

A man in plain clothes, who she believed to be a military officer, told her she would not be able to continue her journey until the next day. He took her to a place where he said she could sleep and then raped her.

The following day, with the help of a friend, she contacted the FCO - initially through its Global Response Centre in London - appealing for advice on what to do and help in getting a medical examination.

However when she went to a hospital, on a list supplied by the Global Response Centre, she was told by the doctor that she did not need a HIV test as there was no HIV in Egypt.

Later that morning when she went to report the attack to the tourist police she found herself in a room with a number of armed plain-clothes officers - a situation she described as "extremely intimidating".

She was told that in order to complete her complaint she would have to go to military headquarters, something she felt she had no choice but to comply with despite being reluctant to go.

Ms M said she was finally allowed out shortly before 3am so that she could try to obtain antiretroviral drugs, on the understanding she would return at 9am to complete her statement.

When she failed to do so an officer was sent to interview her at her friend's apartment where he required her to re-enact what happened when she was assaulted, including demonstrating the positions she had been forced into.

While Ms M was in telephone contact with the embassy while she was at the police station and the military headquarters, she said it would have made a "huge difference" it she had be told that an official could actually have been with her.

On a return to the UK she complained to the FCO about the way she had been treated with "impatience, rudeness and a serious lack of sensitivity" by its staff.

Her complaint was initially rejected, but after the first the human rights charity Redress and then ombudsman became involved, the FCO agreed to apologise and pay £1,000 in compensation.

Mr Fraser said: 'We apologise unreservedly to Ms M for the mistakes we made in her case and fully accept the recommendations in the ombudsman's report.

"We have taken a number of actions to ensure that this does not happen again and we will give Ms M a comprehensive update on the steps we have taken in December. We remain committed to delivering a high-quality consular service to British nationals overseas, particularly to those who are most vulnerable."

Dame Julie said: "This is a prime example of how one individual coming forward to complain can lead to significant changes."


From Belfast Telegraph