A vulnerable alleged rape victim is to be awarded £15,000 (€17,500)for failings in the police investigation into her complaint, a High Court judge in Belfast ruled on Monday.
Mr Justice Gerry McAlinden held that the Northern Ireland woman's human rights were breached by the operational and systemic shortcomings identified.
“I have no hesitation in concluding that an award of damages in this case is necessary to afford the plaintiff just satisfaction,” he said.
The woman, who is in her 30s and has Asperger’s syndrome, reported being raped by a man during a night out in June 2007. A decision was taken subsequently 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 Police Service of Northern Ireland over its handling of the investigation.
The woman, referred to as C, claimed the flawed investigation 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 how the case was handled.
What are the ombudsman’s findings?
The ombudsman concluded that the PSNI investigation 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;
- 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.
Chief constable at the time Hugh Orde wrote to the woman's family apologising and stating that she had suffered a "horrendous attack".
Since then new guidelines have been produced and a specialist rape-crime unit introduced.
Ruling on the action, the judge found the woman had been the victim of a serious sexual assault where no consent was given. He identified a delay in conducting and achieving best-evidence interview, adding that several of the ombudsman’s criticisms of the police investigation were justified.
“The operational failings in this case cannot be described as minor or insignificant,” said the judge. “These failings occurred against a background of systemic shortcomings in relation to training.”