'I was too scared to stop looters', says millionaire's daughter
Monday 26 March 2012
A millionaire's daughter who drove looters around while they robbed people at knifepoint during last year's riots told a court today she had been too scared to stop them.
Laura Johnson, 20, had gone to pick up her friend Emmanuel Okubote, 20, known as T-Man, from Curry's, in Bromley Road, Catford, south east London, when he and three other men wearing hooded tops, bandanas and balaclavas, got into the back of her car and ordered her to drive.
The student told a jury at Inner London Crown Court that she struck up a close friendship with Okubote during the summer after being introduced to him by a friend she had met while she was an outpatient in a mental health unit.
Johnson told the court she was raped by two men on July 14 last year, but had not told anyone at first, causing her mental health to become "worse than ever before".
The court heard she began self-harming after splitting up with her boyfriend earlier in the year and tried to commit suicide six times by overdosing on tablets.
She said her mental health had been very unstable leading up to the incident on the evening of August 8 and she was taking anti-depressants and medication for anxiety at the time of the rioting.
On the day of the incident, Johnson said she had planned to drop off T-Man's phone charger to him before meeting up with her ex-boyfriend.
Instead she claims she was made to drive around the Catford, Hither Green and Charlton areas of London while the men got in and out of the car to loot and rob people.
Martin McCarthy, defending, asked Johnson if she had asked the men to get out of her car and if she had any desire to be involved in the looting.
Johnson said: "The tone of it, the way they were dressed, the shock of it all, it pushed me to not resist. I was scared."
The court was shown CCTV of Johnson pulling up at a petrol station in Sydenham, where Okubote filled the car up with fuel.
She said that although there had been no direct threats to her until that point, she felt she could not get away.
She said the men in the back of the car had been talking about violence and they were amused by the reactions of people they robbed at knifepoint.
She said: "In terms of stabbing, they used the terms 'getting wetted' or 'boaring' somebody, and they kept saying people were 'going to get f***** up'."
Johnson said she told Okubote several times that she needed to go home but he claimed they would not be that much longer, so she kept driving, the court heard.
She said it was only when she disagreed with some of the things the men in her car were saying that Okubote placed a hand around the back of her neck in a threatening manner.
The court was told that the looting continued until 2.30am and during that time the men in the back of Johnson's car had a verbal altercation with a 17-year-old man who drew up alongside them at a retail park which was being looted.
Johnson said the teenager told them he had a gun and pretended his mobile phone was a weapon.
Mr McCarthy told the court that the 17-year-old later took a picture of Johnson at the wheel of her car when he came across them again, and she appeared to be smiling in the photo.
Johnson said: "My response was, if I smile and he goes away, that's fine. If I smile he will leave, rather than antagonising him.
"I had already been told to stop looking so scared and that I was prettier when I smiled."
Johnson, from Orpington, south east London, denies three counts of burglary and three alternative counts of handling stolen goods.
A 17-year-old defendant, who cannot be named for legal reasons, admits one count of burglary but denies two further counts of burglary or handling stolen goods.
The court was told Johnson was arrested at another industrial estate during the early hours of August 9 while she and another man waited in the car.
She was taken to the police station but failed to mention that she had been threatened or that there was a knife in the car during interview for fear of naming anyone else involved, or putting herself and her family at risk, the jury was told.
It was only when she was taken back to her cell that she told the police a knife had been involved, the court heard.
Sandy Canavan, prosecuting, told Johnson that in the context of her ex-boyfriend she had been prepared to lie to him and his family to further her relationship with him.
Johnson admitted: "If I was having trouble at home I would exaggerate sometimes so I could stay with him and his family so I would not have to go home."
Miss Canavan also said that the health care professionals looking after Johnson had not heard about the rape claim until she reported it to them on August 18.
She told the court that on July 15, the day after the incident, Johnson had told health care professionals that her mood had lifted and was a four or five out of 10, but that her appetite and sleep pattern had not changed.
Johnson had also said she felt detached but not sad and had had fleeting thoughts of suicide but no episodes of deliberate self harm, Miss Canavan said.
She added: "If you say what happened on July 14 did happen, I am surprised you are giving yourself a four or five."
Johnson said she was good at hiding how she felt and that telling people she was all right did not mean anything.
The trial was adjourned until tomorrow when Johnson will continue giving evidence.
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