Sarah was no 'Aids avenger'

Friends of the woman jailed for deliberately infecting her partner with HIV say she is the victim of 'vindictive' police
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The Independent Online

She has been portrayed as an "Aids avenger" - a bitter woman who picked up men and deliberately tried to infect them with the HIV virus that leads to Aids.

Since she was jailed last Monday, Sarah Jane Porter has been pilloried after police suggestions that the 43-year-old single mother might have given the virus to "dozens" of men.

But now Ms Porter's friends have claimed she is the victim of a miscarriage of justice and a "vindictive" police campaign.

Her legal team said yesterday they were "horrified" at the "insensitive and aggressive handling of the case", and are to make a formal complaint about police behaviour. They will also appeal against the 32-month sentence that has split Ms Porter from her six-year-old son.

Ms Porter's friends say that far from luring dozens of men into a fatal honeytrap, she had just two relationships after discovering she was HIV-positive. Her only crime was an inability to admit to herself she had the virus. "She felt it was shameful and dirty," a friend said.

Another friend added: "She dotes on her little boy and he dotes on her. The idea that she's out clubbing every weekend picking up men is just wrong. She has a small son to look after. She isn't the type to have one-night stands ... She just pushed the HIV to the back of her mind - so far back that it was hardly there for her. She couldn't even say 'HIV'. When I found out, she thought I would stop our children playing together. She just wanted to be normal, to have a family like everyone else."

Ms Porter, a receptionist at a Vidal Sassoon salon in London, took an overdose, friends say, because the virus had made her "disgusted with herself". She was still in hospital when the police launched their investigation, raiding her flat in Kennington, south London.

Friends debunked the idea that Ms Porter was a "man-eater". "It's true that when she was younger she enjoyed the clubbing scene, but since she's had her boy she goes out once in a blue moon. The police interviewed everybody she's ever known. They pulled in people she hadn't seen for years, people she just had one date with, from long before she was infected," said a friend.

Ms Porter and her then-partner, the father of her son, were diagnosed with HIV in 2000. She was infected by him, but the relationship continued for a year. She then met "Mr C", the man she infected with HIV and with whom she had a two-year relationship.

Friends say Ms Porter was unable to admit to herself she had HIV and couldn't tell her lover. She attempted to have safe sex but was persuaded out of it by her partner. At the time she believed she was in a monogamous relationship, but he was having unsafe sex with other women, her friends claim. He discovered he had HIV after catching genital herpes. The relationship continued for a year after he was diagnosed.

Ms Porter then met "Mr B", the man who made the complaint to police. Friends say she practised safe sex with him but on one occasion the condom split. The following day he discovered, from a mutual friend, that she was HIV-positive. He went to the police, alleging he had been deliberately exposed to the virus, before he went for a test, which proved negative, Ms Porter's friends claim.

Ms Porter's defence lawyer, Wayne Cleaver, confirmed yesterday that they would be appealing against the length of the sentence. It is believed a central issue in any appeal will be the responsibility of all partners to practise safe sex.

Ms Porter completes her first week in prison tomorrow. "She can't see her little boy for at least 16 months," a friend said. "He is being looked after by friends. He knows his mum is in prison but he doesn't know why. He's an innocent little boy and we're trying to protect him from that. He wasn't allowed to watch television for two days or listen to the radio... He doesn't understand. He misses his mum."

Scotland Yard said forensic examination had shown Ms Porter was the source of infection in an HIV-positive man, and urged any other men who thought they had been infected by her to come forward. In a statement it said the inquiry had required "a great deal of time and sensitivity on the part of officers", and Ms Porter had given no help in identifying other "potential victims".

Women and HIV: Straight sex is main cause of infection

More than 19,000 women in the UK were estimated to be HIV-positive in March.

* Women are twice as likely to be infected by men during heterosexual sex than men are by women. Most of the women diagnosed with HIV in the UK have contracted it through heterosexual sex.

* Of the all the 15-to 24-year-olds with HIV globally, 60 per cent are women.

* There were 7,275 people in the UK newly diagnosed with HIV in 2004, and of these some 4,287 were heterosexual - 73 per cent of whom had been infected abroad, mainly in Africa.

* In 2005 one in every 548 women giving birth in England and Scotland were HIV-positive; 92 per cent were diagnosed before delivery. HIV can be transmitted through breast milk.