Police Lose Witness Evidence Causing Collapse Of Rape Trial

Police Force Admits Losing Video Evidence Which Woman Says Robbed Her Chance To See Justice

25.03.2014

A woman who reported to police that she was raped and physically abused by her former partner, but whose case was dropped because officers lost her video evidence, has called for all police forces to review their processes for securing video evidence to prevent anyone else going through a similar ordeal.

The woman, known only as Ms D for legal reasons, says she has faced an ‘emotional nightmare’ after being made to give two video statements at Clevedon Police Station about the abuse she suffered by her ex boyfriend between 2009 and 2011.

In January last year, just days before the trial was due to begin into three charges of rape and one of sexual assault, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) informed her a prosecution could not be pursued because there was no realistic prospect of conviction.

The reason for this decision was because of discrepancies between the notes taken of the first video interview and the actual second video interview which was completed several months later after Ms D had gone through extensive counselling. 

Ms D instructed public law experts at Irwin Mitchell to investigate the inexcusable error and to consider whether there had been a breach of the Human Rights Act 1998. She is speaking out for the first time after Avon and Somerset Constabulary agreed to pay her a settlement of £7,500 for the trauma she was forced to endure after accepting that her rights under the European Convention of Human Rights had been breached.

Police guidance on investigating and prosecuting rape states that, ‘where an adult complainant of rape has been video-interviewed, the police should provide three copies of a recording and a Record Of Video Interview ...to preserve their evidence at an early stage, and to protect them from having to continually repeat their account’.

However, the police admitted the original video evidence was lost along with a working copy and conducted an investigation into how this occurred. The police were unable to establish how the evidence came to be lost but acknowledged that there was a flaw in the process for securing video evidence.

Fiona McGhie is a public law expert at Irwin Mitchell’s Bristol office.

Expert Opinion
Losing this vital evidence was an inexcusable error made by the police with devastating consequences for our client.

“But the fact it did happen amounted to a breach of our client’s human rights as well as a breach of the state’s duty to effectively investigate when a credible allegation of rape is made.

“Reporting the abuse was not a decision she took lightly and it obviously takes a tremendous amount of courage for any victim of abuse to come forward and relive what happened when giving evidence.

“For Ms D to have to do this twice and still not get the opportunity to see her case brought before a judge is something she is unlikely to ever get over.

"We welcome Avon and Somerset Constabulary’s confirmation that a major review of process has resulted in the implementation of new measures for safeguarding video evidence and we hope the lessons learnt in this case are shared with other police forces to prevent the same mistake from being repeated elsewhere.”
Fiona McGhie, Associate

Ms D added: “Towards the end of 2011 my new partner helped give me the strength to go to the police and report the abuse I had suffered from my ex-boyfriend.

“It was terrifying but I knew it was the only way I would ever have closure and be able to begin to put everything behind me.

“In summer 2012 I was told the original video had been lost and I would have to provide my evidence again. By this point I had undergone 10 weeks of counselling and was beginning to move on from my experience.

“I was prepared to relive everything again if it meant gaining justice so I did it and my ex boyfriend was charged a short time later, which I was very relieved about.

“But just days before the trial was due to begin I was told the case had to be discontinued as the CPS felt unable to prosecute because of the loss of the first video evidence.

“I feel like I will never be able to fully move forward with my life as I have been robbed of the opportunity to see justice done. It has been an emotional nightmare.

“Nothing can change my situation but I just hope that improvements are made to protect video evidence by police forces across the country as I wouldn’t want any other victim or vulnerable witness to go through the same horrific ordeal as me.”

 

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