Police admit wrongly arresting woman assaulted at age 17, but mother criticises force for leaving her daughter traumatized
Friday 22 May 201506.00 BSTLast modified on Friday 22 May 201506.03 BST
A rape victim falsely accused of lying by detectives has won £20,000 in damages after suing police under the Human Rights Act. The woman, who cannot be named, was 17 when a man raped her in Winchester in April 2012 after a night out with friends. Her mother reported the attack hours later and the victim told officers her T-shirt may contain her attacker’s DNA.
But the garment was never sent for forensic testing and weeks later the girl, who has mental health problems, was accused of lying about the rape and arrested for perverting the course of justice. During the arrest, one detective told her: “This is what happens when you lie.”
Documents seen by the Guardian reveal that detectives from Hampshire police decided within two days of the rape report that the girl was lying. A detective inspector, who was supervising the inquiry, told a junior colleague: “Fucking nick her.”
But six months later – after a complaint by the girl’s mother about her treatment – a new team of officers reviewed the investigation and informed the mother and her daughter that they believed her. The T-shirt was sent for testing, and the suspect, Liam Foard, was tried and found guilty.
Hampshire police have apologised to the family and admitted liability for false imprisonment and assault. The force accepted there was a breach of its duties under the Human Rights Act to properly investigate the rape.
The victim’s mother said: “I’m glad that they had admitted they were wrong, but how many time does it have to happen? If it can happen to my daughter, how many more can it happen to?” She said her daughter had yet to receive an apology in person.
Four officers faced disciplinary action after an internal investigation by the Hampshire force’s professional standards department. Three avoided any sanction after they retired or resigned, and the fourth was given a written warning.
Debaleena Dasgupta, the young woman’s lawyer, said: “Many people wrongly assume the police have a legal obligation to investigate crimes. However, the only way victims of crime can seek justice for these sorts of issues is using the Human Rights Act, which imposes a duty on the police to properly investigate very serious offences.”
In the days after the rape, the girl was attacked twice in the local area and called a “pathetic rape victim”. The police investigated both incidents but no further action was taken. Eight weeks after her rape complaint, on June 22 2012, the girl was asked to come to a police station, where she was told she was under arrest for perverting the course of justice.
“I just thought, ‘What the hell is going on?’” her mother said. “I knew what perverting the course of justice meant, so I knew they were arresting her for lying about the rape. So at that time my daughter had just turned 18 and I insisted because of mental health problems that I sit in on the interview.
“She [my daughter] tried to run away – she just couldn’t believe it. And she did put up a fight in the police station.”
After her arrest, the girl was on police bail for months while Hampshire police consulted the Crown Prosecution Service about whether to charge her. “It was horrible, because it was like she might have gone to prison. And what would she do, how would she cope, how would I cope, how would the family cope?” her mother said. She added that her daughter’s mental health deteriorated as they waited for the charging decision, and that she began self-harming and attempted suicide twice.
“She was upset because she couldn’t believe that they couldn’t believe that it could happen to her,” the mother said. “We didn’t find out until a later date that they hadn’t done the forensics on the clothes. And that was partly the decision to arrest her, for perverting the course of justice.”
In October, on the day the teenager was due to answer bail, two officers visited mother and daughter at their home. “They told me that my daughter didn’t need to go to the police station to answer bail and that they now believed her story and they would now be taking over the investigation,” said her mother. “I remember standing in the living room saying, ‘They believe you, they believe you.’ She didn’t believe it. She had lost all faith in them by then.”
Documents from Hampshire police confirm that when forensic tests were finally carried out on the T-shirt, seminal fluid and DNA from the suspect were detected. The police documents state: “This was particularly significant as when interviewed for rape, Liam Foard denied any sexual contact with her.” Foard was convicted of rape in September 2013 at Winchester crown court and jailed for six years.
An internal investigation by the force’s professional standards department highlighted the impact of her arrest on the young woman. It said: “Given that she had been raped, reported the matter to the police and now found herself under arrest and being accused of lying, this must have been a particularly traumatic experience. Clearly, had the rape investigation been completed to the required standard, she would never have been arrested and interviewed.”
Chief Superintendent David Powell, head of Prevention and Neighbourhoods at Hampshire police, said: “We accept the way we initially treated this victim fell well below the standard we would expect. We deeply regret this and we took action at the time by referring this case to our professional standards department.
“We have changed our internal processes and any decision by an investigating officer to discontinue a rape investigation or release a suspect with no further action has to be agreed by an independent panel chaired by an assistant chief constable.
“I would like to reassure all victims of sexual assault that we do take you seriously. We do believe you, we appreciate how hard it is to come forward to report these offences, we do not judge you and we are committed to ensuring a professional and supportive response. We are doing everything to ensure we never have an initial response like this again.”