Police procedures under scrutiny as defence team prepares for Napa rape case
By Agnieszka Rakoczy
The defence team for the 19-year-old British woman who allegedly filed a false gang rape claim in Ayia Napa is expected to ask for more time to prepare her case when she next appears in court on Monday.
She will also learn whether she is to be remanded in custody yet again or freed on bail.
According to Nicosia lawyer Nicoletta Charalambidou, whose office recently took on the case, the 19-year-old will have by her side a team of Cypriot and UK lawyers, whose cooperation still requires official confirmation by the attorney-general.
“We’ll ask for more time,” Charalambidou told the Sunday Mail, adding that the UK team is expected to issue an official announcement on Monday.
The defence lawyers are joining forces in their attempt to prove substantial police mishandling of the case which shook Ayia Napa last month when the 19-year-old claimed she had been raped by 12 Israeli teenagers. Days later she recanted, before then saying she had withdrawn the rape claim only under duress.
Answers will be sought as to what prompted the 19-year-old to withdraw her rape claim leading to her arrest on grounds of public mischief, and why all the Israeli teens that were initially arrested were released and sent back home so quickly.
In the meantime, the woman is being held in the Nicosia prison and has not been offered bail. A crowdfunding campaign for her legal fees had raised £21,538 (€23,184) by last week.
According to at least one legal expert, the police may indeed have set in motion a series of procedural errors while investigating the initial alleged rape case. This, he believes, could leave them open to even being sued by the 19-year old.
“There are many questions surrounding the way the girl was treated from the very outset,” the expert, who prefers to remain anonymous, told the Sunday Mail.
“If she has good lawyers to prepare her case thoroughly, as both victim and suspect, she could even be in a position to sue the Cypriot authorities for mishandling the whole situation.”
One crucial question, he said, will be why the authorities were so quick to release the group of Israeli teenagers with whom the woman was allegedly involved.
“She can even file a complaint as to why the authorities released the Israeli teenagers without ever investigating who had made and subsequently released to the public the video recording showing her having sexual intercourse with some of the group.”
The expert says other questions over police procedures range from whether they ensured the confidentiality of sensitive aspects of the investigation process to possibly failing to inform the young woman of her basic rights as an alleged rape victim.
“The first question I would want to ask police and the prosecutor’s office is whether the woman was given the appropriate social and psychological support from the moment she reported the rape,” he said.
An appropriate professional should have been available to advise the woman over her rights and to assess her psychological state at the time she first met with the police.
According to the expert, Cyprus introduced European Union Directive 2012/29 into its legal system in 2016 establishing minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime.
This directive has changed Cyprus law. According to the directive, a crime victim has a right to have a lawyer from the very beginning, and if they cannot afford a lawyer, the state should provide one.
“Was the girl told about it? Did she know that she should have been kept constantly informed as to whether there had been any changes in the procedure? These are particularly important factors since somehow her own status changed from one hour to the next — from victim to suspect — and even then she did not receive legal support immediately.”
Simply judging by the press reports, “it looks like she only saw her lawyer for the first time a couple of days after she was detained.”
Her original lawyer Andreas Pittadjis quit the case on August 7 citing serious disagreements with his client.
The expert also wonders whether the police gave enough attention to key details.
“Rape is a difficult crime to establish and prove,” he said. “Even if a woman consents to sexual intercourse, she can change her mind even while engaged in sexual activity. That is why the girl needed proper assistance from the very beginning so she can clear her mind as to what really happened.”
Even if she agreed to have sex with one or two or three boys but then changed her mind and said she wanted to stop because the others were filming her, this demanded further investigation.
Did the police treat the video as proof that the woman was there of her own free will and not consider the possibility that just after they stopped filming something else happened?
He also points out that, according to the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women, should a rape victim decide to withdraw her earlier statement police may continue the proceedings in order to establish the truth.
“We are talking about a very complicated case. Yet the authorities seemingly decided just on the basis of the girl’s statement to let all the suspects go with immediate effect.”
Perhaps of greatest concern is whether there is a digital record of what happened during the eight hours during the course of which the woman apparently admitted to lying and as a result became the accused rather than the alleged victim. Media reports have said there is no such record.
“Every suspect has the right to have his or her statement recorded since this is the only way to know if their statements were made under duress,” the lawyer said.
The ongoing controversy has raised speculation to fever pitch as to what really happened in the by now infamous room of the two-star Pambos Napa Rocks Hotel. The hotel located in the centre of Ayia Napa, a vacation magnate for hundreds of thousands of tourists mostly from Europe and Israel.
While many people, mostly British and Israeli, have responded positively to the family’s crowdfunding plea, there are others convinced of the woman’s guilt.
“Of course, she’s not enjoying it now since the tables have turned [ie the girl is in jail]. But she sure as hell was enjoying the orgy that night,” one man has written on the Facebook under the news item about the girl’s trial.
“Some of these girls come over [to Ayia Napa] for alcohol tourism. Have sex with whoever they see…” commented another.
However, the Sunday Mail also talked to a group of British women, the same age as the suspect, who are staying currently at the same hotel in Ayia Napa and they are unanimous and adamant that under no circumstances do they believe she has fabricated the story.
“We feel so sorry for her. We are exactly the same age as she is and we simply don’t believe she has made the whole story up. No girl this age would just agree to have sex with such a big number of boys. It doesn’t make sense. Something bad happened in this room.”
Panayiotis Maos is the general manager of the Pambos Napa Rocks Hotel, which is the largest youth-catering establishment in Ayia Napa. Throughout the entire summer season, it averages between between 800 and 1000 guests mostly below the age of 25 on a daily basis. Maos prefers to stay neutral, pointing out other ramifications that need to be taken into account.
“The story goes from black and white to grey and it is complicated. I cannot say what happened in the room because it is not up to me to investigate it. It is the job for police. What I can say is that 13 families have been going through this now and it is very sad. And the case has already influenced Ayia Napa. In our hotel we have had some cancellations both from the Israeli and UK markets.”
In the meantime, the 19-year-old remains in pre-trial detention, which is another concern for the legal expert.
“The crime she is suspected of committing is of low danger and it doesn’t justify detention. She is 19 years old and she is a EU citizen,” he said.
“Even if she leaves Cyprus and goes to the UK there is a necessary and relevant system in place for judicial cooperation of member states in such cases. There is no excuse for her to be kept in jail.”