Great Britain

Cyprus rape case: Police forced British teen to ‘retract’ attack claim, says lawyer

A British teenager convicted of lying about being gang-raped in Cyprus was forced by police to retract her original statement outlining the attack, according to a lawyer supporting the young woman.

The 20-year-old from Derbyshire, whose identity cannot revealed, filed an appeal to the Cypriot Supreme Court on Thursday morning in an attempt to clear her name.

She spent four-and-a-half weeks in a prison in Nicosia during the summer of 2019 after alleging she was sexually assaulted by up to 12 young Israeli tourists in a hotel room in the party resort of Ayia Napa.

The complaint was revoked days later, after which she was arrested and charged with public mischief and 12 Israeli men aged between 15 and 20, who had had been detained for questioning, were allowed to walk free.

A judge at Famagusta District Court in Paralimni in eastern Cyprus ruled the woman had lied to police about the alleged assault on 17 July 2019.

The woman, who has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder since the ordeal, was handed a four-month prison term suspended for three years.

Michael Pollak, a British human rights lawyer and director of Justice Abroad, a legal aid group providing help to the teen’s family, said the court will rule on the appeal within six months.

He told The Independent the only evidence for convicting the woman of lying was the retraction of her statement claiming she was gang raped, but he warned police pressured her into withdrawing her allegations.

“That statement was taken after she had been in a police station for over six hours and there was evidence of coercion from the police to write that statement,” he said.

“Police threatened to arrest her friends if she did not retract the statement. Police told her she could be released from the police station back to her mother if she retracted the statement.

“The police officer who gave evidence stated the retraction statement was the teenager’s statement in her own words. However, when we had that statement examined by Dr Andrea Nini, who is an expert forensic linguist based at Manchester University, he said it was highly unlikely the words used in that reaction statement were the words of the teenager.”

Mr Pollak said the retraction statement was taken without a lawyer present - explaining the girl sent a text message to her friends saying she had informed the police she has the right to a lawyer but the police falsely claimed while she has this right in the UK, she does not in Cyprus.

The young woman maintains she was forced by officers to sign a confession withdrawing the rape complaint, and that lead investigating officer, Sergeant Marios Christou, pressured her into saying she had lied and also threatened to have both her and her friends arrested.

She said that, after being in custody for more than six hours, she agreed to write a statement saying she had lied about the gang rape.

“He gave me word for word what he wanted me to write out and naturally in my brain, I would correct what he’s trying to say,” she said of Christou in an ITV documentary last year.

The police in Cyprus and Sergeant Christou have vehemently denied all allegations of misconduct.

Mr Pollak said a 150-page argument explaining grounds for the appeal hadbeen submitted, including the judge’s behaviour in the 2020 trial.

The lawyer added: “During the trial process, he kept shouting at the female lawyers representing her. Every time we showed evidence DNA evidence and witness evidence, which showed the rape took place, he would shout and say: ‘This is not a rape case’.

“Public mischief requires a false report of a make-believe offence under the Cypriot criminal code, which means the question of whether or not the victim was raped is instrumental to the outcome of the case. If the rape took place she is not guilty of public mischief.

“He should have heard all the evidence on the offence of public mischief and then come to a conclusion rather than shouting evidence down. By refusing to hear that evidence, it showed bias against the defence.”

Mr Pollak argued the judge appeared to have already made a decision before the trial came to an end. The lawyer, who is a barrister at Church Court Chambers in London, said the judge should approach the case “with an open mind”.

“We were pleased with the way things went today,” he added. “We don’t want to prejudge the decision of the Supreme Court, but we were pleased with the way the Supreme Court engaged with our arguments. We are hoping to get justice in Cyprus.”

He said if they do not “find justice” in Cyprus, they will take the case to the European Court of Human Rights. Lawyers for the defendant and prosecutors put forward their arguments to three Supreme Court judges in the Cypriot capital of Nicosia on Thursday.

“The victim in this case has been very brave and determined to clear her name,” Mr Pollak added. “If she applies for a job or to join an association, she has to declare her conviction and then relive what she has faced throughout this ordeal. That is why this appeal is so important for her. The ordeal has been very difficult for her but she remains determined.”

The teenage girl’s experience has attracted criticism and consternation around the world - with around 40 campaigners gathering outside the court on Thursday to support the teenager.

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