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Police change suspect ID policy after park attack criticism

The Pedieos park is popular with joggers, cyclists and walkers

By Andria Kades

After both Nicosia municipality and police were accused this week of failing to protect the public following reports of several women being attacked in Pedieos park, one of the victims contacted the Sunday Mail to share her story.

She is the fifth woman to file a police report saying they had been assaulted between November and December last year at the park which is popular with joggers, cyclists and walkers. The linear park runs alongside the Pedieos riverbed and falls within three different municipalities.

Nicosia municipality has received flak for not providing adequate lighting while police have been criticised for dragging their feet over the investigations and for the procedure they followed. In the most criticised example they asked one victim first to identify a potential suspect face to face and subsequently through a crack in a police station kitchen door after she said it was too traumatic for her to see him up close.

The park extends out to Lakatamia. There have been complaints of poor lighting along the path

It was only when Natassa Yiannou (not her real name) saw press coverage of the incident earlier this week that she realised a run-in with a man who had tried to attack her at Pedieos was not, in fact, an isolated incident.

“It was an evening at the beginning of December, I remember that day because it’s my birthday,” she told the Sunday Mail.

She recalls going on one of her usual runs with her dog albeit a bit later than usual.

“I usually go around 7pm or 8pm but that day I went later, at about 9pm.”

As she crossed a bridge in the park –near the presidential palace – she saw a man coming from the opposite direction staring quite insistently.

She didn’t think much of it but as she passed him she felt that he was still looking.

Turning back, she saw the man standing stock still, staring right at her.

Yiannou kept running for another 10 minutes and on her way back came face to face with him again.

“I don’t know if he was waiting behind the bushes or if he too was coincidentally coming back in the opposite direction.”

Nonetheless, Yiannou quickly tugged on her dog’s leash to make as much distance between them. The move frightened her pet which is scared of heights and it went still.

Seeing an opening, the man ran towards Yiannou with his arms open, she recalls.

“I ran back and yelled ‘f**k off I have spray’.”

As the park often has dogs on the loose, Yiannou carries deodorant spray with her to scare them off.

Ironically, she has never actually needed to use it on an animal but was close to doing so on a human.

Yiannou was lucky that behind her two cyclists were approaching who apparently frightened off the man who quickly turned and went about in the opposite direction.

“I didn’t call the police because I thought it was an isolated incident.”

But since then, she hasn’t felt able to go to the park alone.

After seeing the first media article on the case, Yiannou felt obliged to report the December incident and called police on Monday and was handed over to a female officer. She told Yiannou that an arrest had been made for someone for similar incidents but in the Kaimakli park.

“I thought if they arrested him and it was in another area, maybe the article got it wrong so I didn’t go to give the deposition. When I saw follow up articles I realised we were talking about the same area and I realised police had no idea what was going on or the female officer had got her facts wrong.”

On Wednesday, she went to give a statement.

The police composite profile of the suspect

The first issue that stood out to Yiannou was the inconsistency in the procedure – while the first time she contacted police she was passed on to a woman and told if she came into the station a female officer would take her statement, the events did not quite unfold this way.

“I was totally aware of the fact that I was consensually giving a male officer a statement,” but someone else may not have known the option of speaking to a female was available.

“They don’t have standard procedures.”

Yiannou was also told that if she was called on to identify a possible suspect, he would be sitting in the chair she was currently on and she would have to walk past in an apparently casual stroll to see if she recognised him.

“Are you kidding me, it’s 2017 and this is the best way you have to identify someone?”

This was similar to the widely criticised procedure of the first victim who was expected to identify a possible suspect through a “crack in the door”. She was unable to identify the suspect.

Since then, several steps have been taken.

Two-way mirrors have been introduced in four police stations, one in Paphos, Polis Chrysochous, Limassol and in Nicosia.

Their use was effective on Thursday after the police chief gave orders to do so, deputy police spokesperson Stelios Stylianou told the Sunday Mail.

The changes had been in the works for months particularly after news of a child having to physically touch a suspect to confirm his abuse made the headlines in October.

Stylianou said the legal service had examined the new system which also includes a line-up of potential suspects for the victim to identify – not just one person in the room, and the procedure received the nod on Thursday.

This now satisfies the rights of both victims and potential suspects.

Victims are not under conditions of stress and suspects don’t risk being erroneously identified by a victim who in difficult circumstances were attacked and now want justice to be served.

But the spokesman stipulated media attention on the case has done more harm than good, getting in the way of police’s investigation.

“The element of surprise is now gone.”

Police had taken action right after the first report he said and were hoping to catch him off guard.

The composite sketch had been prepared long before it was shared with the public on Wednesday, Stylianou added.

Another issue for Yiannou is the poor lighting in the park.

Yiannou, who has been using the park for years, said large stretches of the park are very dark.

“It’s not just a matter of security from an attack which is obviously very important but also broader security – even seeing in front of you and not tripping over something.”

Several emails sent by herself, her husband and friends over the years to the municipality have gone unanswered, she told the Sunday Mail.

Pedieos park falls under the responsibility of three different municipalities across different parts – Lakatamia, Strovolos and Nicosia.

The incidents took place within Nicosia municipality which on Friday announced it was going to have daily patrols, particularly at night, after it hired a private security firm.

“We took this action after we saw the press reports,” spokesman Makis Nicolaides told the Sunday Mail.

Municipality electricians will also inspect the park’s lighting daily.

Strovolos municipality was not immediately available for comment while Lakatamia mayor Fotoula Hadjipapa said every year they cut down some of the greenery so it doesn’t block the light.

Scheduled to take place next week, it is irrelevant to the developments, she added.

Lighting in Lakatamia’s part of Pedieos alternates from lighting the left side to the path to the right after every pole in a bid to save energy.

Although having both sides lit at all times would be much more preferable, costs are too high and there is still adequate lighting for safety, Hadipapa said.

In a pre-arranged meeting set to take place between all mayors in the beginning of February, Pedieos park is expected to be discussed.

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