9th July 2015

INQUEST has been working closely with the family of Eleanor de Freitas, providing specialist advice and support.  We provided a letter of support for the family’s request for a new inquest, in which INQUEST co-director Deborah Coles said:

“INQUEST considers that Article 2 ECHR was engaged in this case and as such the coroner should have allowed for a broad scope of investigation into the circumstances of Eleanor’s death.

In particular, it is our position that the role of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) should have been considered, in particular the decision making process that led them to their decision to prosecute Eleanor for the crime of perverting the course of justice. It is difficult to understand the coroner’s reasoning in not doing so, when he stated in the conclusion to the inquest that ‘the impending court hearing was clearly a significant stressor in her [Eleanor’s] life at the time’.

Eleanor was a vulnerable young woman, having been diagnosed with bi-polar disorder and previously having been hospitalised under s.2 of the Mental Health Act 1983. She was, as such, in need of additional support and protection from the state given her inherent vulnerability. Instead it would appear that there were systemic failings by both the medical and criminal justice hands of the state, neither of which, we would submit, was adequately scrutinised by the inquest.

INQUEST considers this case to raise concerning questions over the way in which the criminal justice system deals with rape complainants as well as the safeguards that are in place to ensure the vulnerability and/or mental health of the alleged victim are taken into account by the CPS in their decision making processes when prosecuting rape complainants.

These wider issues raised by the death of Eleanor, require effective scrutiny.”

The family’s solicitors Birnberg Peirce issued the following press release today 9 July 2015:

The father of Eleanor de Freitas to challenge Coroner’s inquest into her death:  Huge expression of public interest in support.

The father of Eleanor de Freitas, who died on 4 April 2014, has (through his solicitor Birnberg Peirce) earlier this week lodged an application with the Attorney General requesting a referral to the High Court to consider ordering a fresh inquest into her death.  He has also asked the Attorney General to consider whether a public inquiry should be ordered.  The application has received unprecedented support from a range of organisations and individuals concerned about the wider public interest issues raised by this case.

Eleanor de Freitas took her own life on the eve of a trial at which she was to be prosecuted for perverting the course of justice.  She was diagnosed with bi-polar affective disorder.  The prosecution arose following a complaint of rape she made to the police that resulted in the arrest of the man she accused.  A police investigation resulted in a decision to take No Further Action.  The man accused asked the police to charge the complainant with perverting the course of justice, but they declined, as there was insufficient evidence, in their view, that she had lied.  This man then started a private prosecution that was subsequently taken over by the Crown Prosecution Service, despite initial noncooperation by the police. 

The application for an Attorney General’s fiat is supported by a dossier of over 15 detailed letters providing evidence in support of the public interest issues raised by this application.   Support comes form a range of organisations and individuals, including (amongst others) Rape Crisis England and Wales (the national umbrella group for 46 Rape crisis organisations) and Vera Baird QC, former Solicitor General and Police and Crime Commissioner for Northumbria*. We expect and invite other groups to also write in support.

Recent research studies (also referred to in the application) show that, in the context of an extremely high attrition rate for rape prosecutions (under 7% of reported rapes result in conviction), rape complaints by those suffering from mental illness are very rarely prosecuted.  Furthermore, an ongoing comparative into prosecutions of rape complainants across the western world indicates that “no country pursues the prosecution of disbelieved rape complainants with the frequency that occurs in Britain”.

This case raises many issues of public interest including:

  • Use of private prosecutions against rape complainants
  • The prosecution of rape complainants whose rape/sexual offence allegations are not pursued for perverting the course of justice
  • Depriving protections available to rape complainants (such as anonymity) when the complainant becomes a defendant in a PCJ prosecution, thus potentially putting potentially genuine complainants at risk.
  • Failing to follow guidelines for prosecuting mentally disordered defendants
  • The issue of ‘rape myths’ e.g. disbelieving complainants who do not conform to stereotypical behaviour and whose behaviour both before and after the alleged offence is inconsistent.
  • The deterrent effect that prosecuting rape/sexual offence complainants for PCJ has on the reporting of these serious offences by women, in the context of a very high attrition rate.

Over recent months, the DPP’s decision making has been called into question not least in respect of Lord Janner. A fresh inquest with the wider scope to include the CPS, will provide the opportunity to explore in some depth, the way that the CPS goes about making its charging decisions, and whether this should be altered.

It is significant to note that the CPS appear to have recently changed its guidance, since the de Freitas case, on its website which no longer incorporates the following

‘A person who deliberately makes a false allegation in the knowledge that there is a risk that the police will conduct an investigation may be guilty of perverting the course of justice.  But, in reaching a decision to prosecute, the prosecutor must be able to prove that the allegation was in fact false.   If there is any question as to whether the original allegation might in fact have been true, then there is not a realistic prospect of conviction, and no charge of perverting the course of justice should be brought’ . 

It should be noted that neither the rape allegation nor the perverting the course of justice allegation has been tried before a Court of Law, so neither allegation can be said to be true

David de Freitas said:

“My concern has been to explore the conduct of the CPS and their alleged failures in the context of the very important wider public interest issues raised. I hope that by having a fresh inquest with the scope widened to include the CPS, or a public inquiry, that answers can be found and important lessons learned so that no other vulnerable young woman or her family are forced to deal with what Eleanor and her family have been forced to come to terms with.”

For further information contact Harriet Wistrich or Cassie Laver on 020 7911 0166 or [email protected] ; [email protected];

*  some of the other organisations and individuals who have so far written in support of this application include in addition:  Refuge, (the UK’s largest single provider of specialist domestic violence services), Inquest, Women against Rape, Victim Support, Eaves, Justice for Women, Campaign to End Rape, End Violence Against Women (UK coalition of groups working to end violence against women), Nia (provides services to women and girls who have experience domestic and sexual violence), One in Four (supports adults who have been sexually abused in childhood), Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Centre (Rape Crisis South London), Support after Rape and Sexual violence, Leeds; Professor Lisa Avalos, Arkansas university and Liberty.