Violinist found dead after testifying against her abuser

Victim’s family blame traumatic trial for suicide as choirmaster and his wife are found guilty of assaults. Cahal Milmo reports

The way the judicial system treats victims of sexual assault was once more under scrutiny tonight after a professional violinist killed herself after she had given evidence at the trial of a choirmaster who abused her.

Frances Andrade, 48, was found dead at her Surrey home six days after she testified against Michael Brewer, 68, who sexually assaulted her while she was a teenage pupil at the internationally renowned Chetham’s School of Music in Manchester.

Brewer, the school’s former director of music and a leading youth choirmaster, was today found guilty of five counts of indecent assault against his former pupil. A jury was told that he had abused her at his office in the school when she was 14 and 15. His former wife, Hilary Kay Brewer, also 68, was also found guilty of an indecent assault against Mrs Andrade when she was 18 at the couple’s home.

Jurors, who had seen a visibly agitated Mrs Andrade give her evidence over two days on 16 and 17 January, were not told of the tragedy until they had delivered their verdicts today.

Reporting restrictions had been imposed to preserve the integrity of the trial.

Judge Martin Rutland, who warned the Brewers to expect to be sent to jail, said Mrs Andrade, the mother of four children, had not left a note and the circumstances which led to her death were not yet known.

But her son, Oliver, made it clear tonight that her family believed she committed suicide following her courtroom ordeal, saying “the court system let her down”.

In a statement paying tribute to his mother, he said: “Like all people, she was not impervious. Being repeatedly called a ‘liar’ and a ‘fantasist’ about a horrific part of her life in front of a court challenged her personal integrity and was more than even she could bear.”

Oliver Andrade said his mother had praised the Surrey Police liaison officer appointed to her case but had been “kept in the dark” about court dates until the last minute and spent only 10 minutes talking to prosecution lawyers before she gave evidence, leaving her unsure what to expect from prosecuting and defending barristers. Referring to her two days of testimony at Manchester Crown Court, he said his mother had been “exceptionally uncomfortable throughout the entire thing”.

Mrs Andrade, whose body was found at her Guildford home on 24 January following a suspected insulin overdose, had found giving evidence against the Brewers traumatic and complained in open court about some of the questioning from defence barrister Kate Blackwell QC.

After being accused by Ms Blackwell of “indulging in the realms of fantasy” concerning allegations that Michael Brewer abused her in his camper van, forcing her to give him oral sex, Mrs Andrade said: “I really understand why so many cases have not come to court. You were not there.”

Ms Blackwell also cross-examined her about an allegation of rape against both Brewers, claimed to have been carried out when Mrs Andrade was 18. The couple were cleared of the rape charges.

When the barrister suggested her evidence was “utter fantasy”, Mrs Andrade replied: “Bollocks. You have got no idea clearly about what it is like to be raped. You have clearly no feminine understanding of what someone goes through like that.”

At the end of her testimony, the violinist added: “You are hugely insulting, even though it’s your job.”

It was reported tonight that three days before her death, Mrs Andrade, a brilliant musician who was married to renowned viola player Levine Andrade, texted a friend to say she felt she had been “raped all over again” and felt “fragmented” after her time in the witness box.

Judge Rutland today went out of his way to state that there could be no criticism of the way the barrister had conducted her cross-examination. He said: “Miss Blackwell has conducted this case in an exemplary manner, including a perfectly proper and completely professional examination of all witnesses in this case in accordance with her duty to her client.”

The Crown Prosecution Service said that “every effort” had been made to support Mrs Andrade during the prosecution. Nazir Afzal, chief prosecutor for CPS North West, said: “We hope this conviction can provide [the victim’s family] with some measure of comfort, however small it may be.”

Oliver Andrade said in his statement that one of the reasons why his mother agreed to give evidence was so that “other students who had also suffered abuse at Chetham’s would be able to receive justice”.

He added: “It is of the utmost importance that those who have suffered sexual abuse have every effort made to make them feel safe and supported, whether recent or historic.”

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