UK woman accused of making up Cyprus gang-rape claims has conviction quashed

Cypriot supreme court throws out case, saying 21-year-old was not given fair trial

A British woman found guilty of fabricating a claim that she was gang-raped in a holiday resort in Cyprus has been vindicated after the island's supreme court overturned the conviction.

Two years after the then teenager received a suspended four-month sentence for fomenting public mischief, the court threw out the case, acknowledging she had not been given a fair trial.

"This is a watershed moment," said Michael Polak of the legal aid group Justice Abroad, who had co-ordinated the appeal against the conviction. "Not just for our client who has always maintained her innocence even when doing so caused her the hardship of not being able to return home during the lengthy trial proceedings, but also for others round the world in similar positions."

The verdict, he said, had been achieved “against the odds”.

Persefoni Panayi, the British-born president of the supreme court, upheld the appeal against the conviction, although the three-member panel was divided, with one voting against.

The Derbyshire student, now 21, had described in detail how she was raped by up to 12 Israelis in a hotel room in Ayia Napa in July 2019 after a night out with one of the tourists went horribly wrong. She had threatened to go to the European Court of Human Rights if the effort to clear her name had failed on Monday.

The guilty verdict, handed down by the district court judge Michalis Papathanasiou, had hinged on the Briton allegedly admitting she had falsified her original complaint. Her defence team had argued the handwritten confession, which formed the basis of the prosecution case, was extracted under duress, in the absence of a lawyer, or translator, after more than seven hours of police questioning.

Alleged assailants

Judge Papathanasiou had repeatedly refused to allow the defendant, as she stood in the dock, to speak about the assault, saying: “This is not a rape trial.”

The retraction allowed the alleged assailants, who were aged between 15 and 22 and included the sons of senior Israeli officials, to immediately return home.

The woman's status changed overnight from victim to suspect and she spent four weeks in Nicosia general prison before being forced to remain on the Mediterranean island for a further six months as court proceedings dragged on.

The woman, who has never been publicly named, was not in Nicosia to hear the news on Monday, with her lawyers describing their client as still too traumatised to travel. But in a statement, her mother responded to the outcome, saying: “It is a great relief we hear that the authorities in Cyprus have recognised the flaws in their legal process. Whilst this decision doesn’t excuse the way she was treated by the police, or the judge or those in authority, it does bring with it the hope that my daughter’s suffering will at least bring positive changes in the way victims of crime are treated.”

Demonstrators who had gathered outside the capital’s supreme court cheered as Mr Polak applauded the Briton’s “brave Cypriot female lawyers” who, he said, were repeatedly “shouted at and treated with contempt during the trial proceedings”.

Some carried banners scrawled with the words “end rape culture” and “rape is a crime”.

Women's groups, which have deplored the handling of the case, believe the woman not only fell victim to macho culture but also to issues of diplomacy. At a time of heightened tensions in the eastern Mediterranean over offshore energy rights, the Greek Cypriot government has been keen to maintain close ties with Jerusalem.

Support

In Israel, where women's rights activists have also come out in support for the university student, local media asked: "Will the boys now go on trial, or will we never find the truth?" Having denied any wrongdoing, most have spent the past two years in obligatory national service.

Mr Polak said he was pleased with the result, but he told the Guardian that for justice to be properly rendered a fresh investigation of the rape complaint would need to be conducted.

In a 154-page dossier submitted before the supreme court, the defence team argued that the police inquiry into the teenager’s sexual assault claims was in breach of investigating standards.

“We want the investigation to be transferred to a different police force so that all the evidence in this case can be considered fairly and dispassionately,” he said. “Cypriot authorities now have a duty to properly investigate the rape complaint because it is clear that was never done.” – Guardian