Woman loses false rape claim appeal


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The Independent Online

A woman who spent time behind bars after "falsely retracting" rape allegations against her husband lost her bid to overturn her "unjust" conviction for perverting the course of justice today.

Her challenge was rejected at the Court of Appeal in London by Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge, Mr Justice Silber and Mr Justice Maddison.

They had been urged to rule that the 29-year-old mother's conviction was "unsafe".

But dismissing her case today, Lord Judge said the court was "not entitled to interfere with this conviction".

The woman, from Powys, was originally sentenced at Mold Crown Court to eight months imprisonment, but that was overturned by the Court of Appeal in November 2010 when judges quashed the custodial penalty and replaced it with a community sentence with a two-year supervision order.

The woman's husband was charged with six counts of rape in 2009 to which he pleaded not guilty, but she later said the allegations she had made were false.

The prosecution offered no evidence against him when he appeared at Mold Crown Court and not-guilty verdicts were entered.

Initially she was charged with perverting the course of justice on the basis of making a false complaint, but she later asserted that it was the retraction, rather than the allegation of rape, which was false.

Giving the decision on her conviction appeal today, Lord Judge said: "The reality of this case is that the appellant was undoubtedly guilty of a serious crime, from which police officers did all they reasonably could to dissuade her.

"Compassion for her position, and indeed for any woman in the same or a similar position, should have produced a non-custodial sentence.

"That is why this court acted speedily to quash the custodial sentence and replace it with a community order which would offer practical assistance to the appellant in the immediate aftermath of her release from prison."

He added: "The court also expressed itself in clear and direct language, which was immediately considered by the Director or Public Prosecutions, who has now issued fresh guidance about how cases involving false retractions of true allegations by vulnerable defendants will be addressed in the future."

Lord Judge said: "All that acknowledged, we cannot dispense with or suspend the statute, or grant ourselves an extra statutory jurisdiction.

"Accordingly, we are not entitled to interfere with this conviction. The appeal must be dismissed."

Lord Judge said the woman, who pleaded guilty to making a false retraction of a rape allegation, was convicted of "making false retractions of a most serious allegation of sexual crime when she would otherwise have been in a position to assist the Crown to prosecute the perpetrator to conviction".

He added: "On this basis she deliberately enabled her husband to escape justice for the crime of rape for which she was the victim.

"On both occasions when the case has been before this court, the prosecution has proceeded on the basis that the allegations of rape and domestic abuse suffered by the appellant at the hands of her husband were true."

The appeal judges proceeded "on the same basis", but Lord Judge pointed out: "Nevertheless, it is only fair to the appellant's husband to record that he has consistently denied the allegations and has not had any opportunity publicly to challenge or refute them."

He referred to observations made by the court during the woman's sentence appeal - including the fact that perverting the course of justice was not confined to making and pursuing false allegations or giving false evidence, but extended to the retraction of truthful allegations or evidence.

Lord Judge said the issue of "duress" in the form of the "physical, sexual and mental abuse inflicted on her" was at the heart of the appeal - whether on the facts of the case duress might have provided a realistic potential defence.

He said: "The contemporaneous evidence available to the appellant's legal advisers, once she had decided to tell the truth, provided a great deal of mitigation, but no viable defence of duress."

She did not suggest to her lawyers or police that when she "falsely retracted her truthful complaints she was acting under the threat of serious ill-treatment or violence at the hands of her husband or anyone else".

Even her most recent statement did not suggest she was threatened with violence at the time when she made her false retractions.

Lord Judge said: "We immediately recognise that the appellant felt under huge pressure, but although feeling concerned for or even fearful of her husband, or a sense of guilt, or concern about what would happen to her children if her husband was in prison for 10 years or thereabouts, taken in combination undoubtedly creates difficult problems and provides significant mitigation, but does not constitute duress."

The judge said the court "can see no basis for concluding that the appellant felt exposed to violence or the threat of violence when she made the false retractions on which her prosecution was founded".