UK

Inquiry launched by DPP into rape allegation case

Eleanor de Freitas Image copyright Family
Image caption Three days before Ms De Freitas was due to stand trial in April, she took her own life

An investigation has been launched into the case of a woman who was prosecuted over an alleged false rape claim - and then killed herself.

Eleanor De Freitas, 23, had bipolar disorder and left notes saying she was frightened of going to court.

She said she had been raped but later faced trial for allegedly perverting the course of justice.

A coroner's inquest into her death has been adjourned. Her father David has called for an inquest with a jury.

He described the situation as "tragic".

Director of public prosecutions Alison Saunders said she was personally asking officials for answers.

Mental breakdown

The inquest into Ms De Freitas' death opened earlier, but her family want it to be treated as a special type of legal case where a jury could consider whether public bodies could have done more to prevent a death.

Ms De Freitas suffered a mental breakdown during her first year at Durham University. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and had received medical treatment.

In early 2013 she made a rape complaint to the Metropolitan Police.

The force told her there would not be a prosecution because of some inconsistencies in her evidence.

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Media captionEleanor's father David described the impact of the prosecution on his daughter as "utterly devastating"

The man she had accused of rape then launched his own private prosecution, accusing her of perverting the course of justice.

Ms De Freitas' solicitors asked the Crown Prosecution Service to halt the private action but the CPS decided to take it over and continue it.

Three days before Ms De Freitas was due to stand trial in April, she took her own life.

'Soul-destroying'

David de Freitas told BBC Radio 4's Today programme his daughter feared the prospect of testifying at trial.

He said: "I saw a quarter of the Eleanor that used to be there. It was soul-destroying and it ground her down.

"She masked really what she was going through because she seemed on the surface to have been coping quite well, but clearly she wasn't.

"I personally think that it was because she feared being sectioned under the Mental Health Act that she took strenuous efforts to mask her feelings and what she reported to her medical team and to us.

"In the end, she couldn't cope with it and it was tragic, tragic, tragic."

He added that while he was grateful the investigation was taking place, "it very much falls into the category of too little, too late".


Analysis

By Dominic Casciani, BBC News home affairs correspondent

In January 2011, the then DPP said he would personally oversee decisions to charge people with making a false rape allegation.

Over the following 17 months, lawyers considered 121 alleged false claims and charged in 35 cases.

In other words, taking someone to court for falsely alleging rape is pretty rare.

So the simple question for the CPS is why it thought it was in the public interest to continue with this private prosecution, rather than stop it, given Ms De Freitas' documented mental health problems - and its duty to take all circumstances into account before putting someone in the criminal dock.

Under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, public bodies must account for their actions if they were either involved in a death or they could have done something to prevent it. That typically leads to an inquest before a jury, rather than just before a coroner.

And that is why the family's lawyers want a wider investigation - because they fear that a narrow inquest won't allow the full circumstances of this tragedy to be understood.


In a statement, Ms Saunders said she wanted to meet the De Freitas family after she had completed her investigation.

"I am very saddened by the tragic death of Eleanor de Freitas," she said.

Image caption Alison Saunders said the case was "one of the most difficult I have seen"

"I have asked the team which dealt with this case for a full explanation which addresses all of the De Freitas family's concerns.

"I appreciate the family's unease which is why I am looking at this personally in order to satisfy myself of the detail surrounding all the stages of the case.

"Prosecuting cases of perverting the course of justice in connection with an alleged false rape allegation is rare, extremely difficult and always complex and sensitive.

'Serious implications'

"This case was one of the most difficult I have seen. To say any more at this stage would be inappropriate until I can answer the De Freitas family's concerns fully and directly."

Under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, public bodies must account for their actions if they were either involved in a death or there is a question over whether they could have done something to prevent it from happening.

In practice, this usually means holding an inquest before a jury so that it can decide whether or not the state had any role in what happened.

The shadow attorney general Emily Thornberry welcomed the DPP's involvement and also supported the call for a special inquest under Article 2.

"They deserve independent answers, not just an explanation from the CPS," she said.

Adam Pemberton, from the charity Victim Support, which helps rape and sexual assault victims, said it could have "serious implications" on the willingness of victims to report rape.

He said: "This is a tragic and troubling case which raises broader concerns about the use of private prosecutions against rape complainants and whether or not they are fair and appropriate in such circumstances.

"We are concerned in principle about someone who has been accused of rape being able to bring a private prosecution against the complainant because this allows that individual to use the law to do something guaranteed to intimidate their accuser."

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