PRESS RELEASE Women Against Rape in court with Ms Brooker
Tel: 020 7482 2496 Email firstname.lastname@example.org www.womenagainstrape.net
Rhiannon Brooker, mother of an eight month old child has been convicted at Bristol Crown Court of perverting the course of justice after she reported a series of rapes and domestic violence by her then boyfriend Paul Fensome. She was prosecuted contrary to CPS guidelines.
A WAR spokesperson, who attended key parts of the trial, acted as a court monitor and supported Ms Brooker, said:
“Rape victims are being turned on by the police and CPS, and the media sensationalises these prosecutions, undermining all women’s safety. This case should never have gone to court – it went against CPS guidelines. We are outraged that these cases are being given more police and CPS resources than violent crimes like rape. It is not in the public interest and was completely disproportionate. Time and again we see police resources diverted from rape and put into prosecuting women instead.”
Whistleblower PC James Patrick exposed in Parliament last November widespread police pressure on women to retract rape reports, targeting the most vulnerable victims, and the Independent Police Complaints Commission found that this had been a "standard operating procedure" in one London borough. Research by The Guardian found it was also going on in other places.
The trial against Ms Brooker lasted more than ten weeks and the investigation lasted over a year. A rape trial typically lasts less than a fortnight! Every aspect of Ms Brooker’s life and past was dredged up for lengthy questioning. Her childhood friends, classmates and even the headmistress was traced and questioned. Her current boyfriend (who refused to give a statement) was threatened by police with a charge of perverting the course of justice if he stood as a witness in Ms Brooker’s defence. Ms Brooker’s home was raided and she was arrested by around ten officers at 7am, her childhood diaries were taken and examined among many other items. She was subjected to hours in a cell and lengthy questioning that eventually led to her retraction “to make it all go away” – this followed months of traumatic questioning dredging up every aspect of her past including rape in her childhood. The CPS prosecutor went so far as to say that her motive was that she was failing at her BAR exams (legal training) despite her being in the top ten per cent of students.
Before the trial Avon and Somerset police (under Police chief Nick Gargan who was suspended during this trial over unrelated serious allegations of inappropriate conduct towards female members of his staff) illegally obtained Ms Brooker’s medical notes. The CPS prosecutor, Mr David Bartlett, cited a previous ruling which gave police the right to breach human rights to obtain medical records in the case of a “reckless HIV transmission” which he argued was of comparable seriousness to this case – an outrageous defence of police illegality! The judge, Mr Julian Lambert, still allowed parts of the medical notes to be used.
During the trial the CPS prosecutor, Mr Bartlett, flouted Alison Levitt’s guidelines for prosecutors, which says that rape myths should not be used to cross-examine rape victims. Mr Bartlett continued to use rape myths throughout the trial including by saying that because Ms Brooker didn’t scream for help or use the police alarm, she must be guilty of lying. His response to defence objection (by Ms Sarah Elliott QC), was that this was not a rape trial. Just days before Ms Brooker was charged Mr Fensome received police compensation for having been imprisoned during the investigation. Both of these actions show that the police and CPS considered Ms Brooker was guilty until proven innocent!
Women Against Rape (WAR) says: “Women like Ms Brooker who are accused of a false allegation of rape should remain anonymous until proven guilty. The court should treat them as rape victims until the case against them is proven.”
WAR did collaborative research on so-called false allegations of rape with Professor Lisa Avalos, of University of Arkansas School of Law. It found that the UK treatment of false reports of rape is far more punitive than the US, where it is unlikely to attract a prison sentence.
WAR said, “In our experience, charges against women often follow negligent and biased police investigations. In many rape cases brought to us, police lost evidence or did not gather it, witnesses were not interviewed, statements were not taken. This case is proof that women are being prejudicially treated by the criminal justice system. We must bring an end to these witch hunts. Reporting has increased in the wake of the Savile and other scandalous cases where women were not only disbelieved but threatened with prosecution. If the authorities want to turn the clock back and put women off from coming forward, prosecutions like this are a very effective deterrent.”
Last year, the DPP clarified CPS guidelines saying that false allegations should only rarely be prosecuted in the case of a “double retraction” where a woman retracts her original allegation of rape and later reiterates it. In 2012, Alison Saunders, the current DPP, had said that false allegations accounted for a tiny 2% of reported rapes. However, our appeal to the CPS to drop the case against Ms Brooker was rejected by the then DPP Keir Starmer. Ms Brooker is not the only rape victim he dismissed, yet he is now building a career as a victims’ champion.
We are working to overturn two other miscarriages of justice – those of Layla Ibrahim and Gail Sherwood, jailed for two and three years after reporting rape by strangers. We will continue to support Ms Brooker and campaign to overturn this conviction.
We are contacting the DPP. The CPS seem to find it easy to get rape victims convicted of lying even when they know we’ve told the truth. Does the CPS intend to continue prosecuting women even though it has nothing to do with justice and it further undermines the conviction of rapists? Women want to know if it’s safe to come forward to report rape or whether we are expected to put up and shut up as we were forced to do in the past.