Court dismisses Belize rapes action


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The Independent Online

Two women who were raped as schoolgirls on "the trip of a lifetime" to Belize have lost their High Court damages action.

The pair, who are now in their early 20s and cannot be identified, had sued their former school in the Medway area of Kent and expedition organiser Adventure Life Signs Ltd (ALS) for an agreed sum of £100,000 each, subject to liability.

Mr Justice Mackay, in London, said the teenagers were in a party of 12 staying at a remote camp in August 2005 when they were raped by a local man, Aaron, a tour guide and the joint owner of the farm resort.

He was not positively invited into a cabana shared by five girls, but they did not actively protest, he added.

"They all knew that he had no business to be in their cabana at all, let alone at midnight, and that they had no business to be drinking rum as some of them were."

After some harmless socialising, when they were at pains to keep noise to a minimum to conceal his presence, Aaron initiated a game of "spin the bottle" before the rape took place.

He was later charged with the offences in Belize, but they were dismissed as the girls, for entirely understandable reasons, added the judge, felt unable to go back to give evidence at his trial.

They alleged that Aaron's behaviour at a swimming pool on the afternoon of the incident should have put the expedition leaders, a teacher and two ALS representatives, on notice that he was grooming them as potential victims.

The judge said he was satisfied that comments he made at the pool were not heard by the leaders or reported to them.

The ethos of the expedition was not to crowd the girls with adult supervision, but to do so from a discreet but reasonable distance.

Aaron would have taken care not to alert the eyes or ears of the leaders and, had they been put on notice, they would have opposed his suggestion that he stay at the farm that night.

The judge also rejected the complaint that there was a foreseeable risk of a sexual assault of some kind by Aaron, against which the leaders failed to take precautions.

He said it was not alleged that Aaron had any undiscovered criminal record or that Belize operated a system on the lines of the UK's Criminal Records Bureau.

"Had the police been consulted prior to these events, the probability is they would have given him a good reference.

"It is most unlikely they would have asserted that a young man who was openly working as a tour guide for parties which included or comprised teenage girls was a threat to such persons.

"Indeed, even after the allegations were made against him and he had gone on the run, a female police officer maintained in effect that she thought Aaron was the type of young man she would be happy to see her daughter associating with."

Dismissing the claims "with regret", the judge said: "This party was continuously supervised by three highly responsible and experienced adults.

"Short of posting a guard on the door of each cabana, or instituting some system of watch-keeping, there would have been no way of defeating Aaron's assault on these girls, which he and up to a point they were at pains to keep from the leaders.

"It would not be fair, just and reasonable to define the scope of their duties so as to require them to have taken those or any other precautions that night.

"I find that the checks made were reasonable and proportionate, and that the leaders of this expedition were not given any reason to foresee this terrible event",

"The defendants did not breach their respective duties of care to these claimants who were the victims of an unscrupulous, determined and skilful attacker."