Faisal Ellahi’s victim was completely trusting of others because “her life experiences hadn’t taught her to be any other way”, the trial was told. Until Ellahi stopped her on the street on June 12th, 2013, the woman saw the world as a kind place – an innocence that was due in part to her being born with Down syndrome, said Fergal Rooney, a psychologist specialising in disability and sexual issues. He said she was likely to do what a stranger told her because she wanted to please people.
Her limited knowledge of sexual matters “was naive and romanticised”. She understood the idea of romantic dates and marriage, but not pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases. According to her mother, it was difficult to assign her an overall mental age but that in some areas it was as low as seven.
These characteristics made her a perfect target for Ellahi, but also made any criminal trial a daunting prospect. There were several obstacles to overcome before the prosecution team, led by Caroline Biggs SC, could proceed.
The court allowed her to give evidence in a pre-recorded interviews with a specialist interviewer, carried out in casual surroundings. They were shown to the jury in two DVDs.
Having established a rapport by chatting about family, holiday plans and her favourite pop stars, the interviewer asked the victim to detail what happened to her that day after she had met Ellahi.
Although frequently offered breaks, she wanted to keep going, even when she appeared to get upset while recounting some of the more graphic details.
Worries that her eagerness to please might result in her being suggestible were addressed by only asking her vague questions and by only using words and phrases she had already used herself.
She was told repeatedly that it was perfectly fine if she did not remember something.
She was not required to take an oath, instead, the interviewer asked her a series of questions to establish that she knew the difference between the truth and a lie. For example, she was asked if Ronan Keating was in the band One Direction and asked if this was true or a lie. She said it was a lie because he was in Boyzone.
Her cross-examination took place live via video-link, with the woman holding a pink teddy bear as she answered questions from a room elsewhere in the court building. The judge and barristers wore ordinary suits rather than wigs and gowns and addressed each other and the woman on a first-name basis. The cross-examination was gentle and brief, one of the few mitigating points Ellahi will be able to rely on at sentencing.
Early in the trial, the defence asked for the court’s permission to question the woman on her past sexual history, specifically if she had ever had a boyfriend or kissed a boy. The prosecution argued against this and cited the new EU victim’s rights directive which states victims cannot be asked irrelevant questions about their private lives.
A visibly annoyed Mr Justice Tony Hunt agreed and refused permission.