Boyfriend of dead woman wins damages

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The Independent Online

The partner of a woman found dead in a lake six years ago has won £125,000 in libel damages over a police claim that he was probably her killer.

Amilton Bento, 31, sued Bedfordshire Police over a July 2009 press release. It followed the January 2006 discovery of the body of Kamila Garsztka, six weeks after he reported her missing.

In July 2007, he was convicted of her murder, but this was quashed by the Court of Appeal in February 2009 on the basis of the "unsatisfactory nature" of evidence that Ms Garsztka had been carrying a bag shortly before she died. The bag was found at Bento's flat on the night she was last seen.

In July 2009, shortly before a retrial, the case was discontinued and Bento was acquitted.

Two days later, Bedfordshire Police issued the release, which Bento said implied he was guilty of murder and had wrongly escaped justice.

The police accept that the release meant there was sufficient evidence to justify proceeding with the retrial in the reasonable expectation that Bento would be convicted. But Mr Justice Bean, who heard the case at London's High Court without a jury, rejected their defences of justification and qualified privilege.

He concluded that such police statements "reduce confidence in the criminal justice system, as well as seriously damaging the right to reputation of the individual".