The family of a young woman who killed herself days before she was due to stand trial for making false rape allegations have attacked the inquest into her death, saying they may launch legal proceedings over alleged failings by the CPS for allowing her case to go to court.
Relatives of Eleanor de Freitas, a 23-year-old Durham University graduate from Fulham, west London, who suffered from depression and bipolar disorder, spoke out after a coroner recorded a verdict of suicide.
The trainee accountant, described as a “vivacious straight-A student”, was terrified at the prospect of appearing in court. The rape investigation was dropped after text messages and e-mails revealed inconsistencies in her story. Alexander Economou, the 35-year-old financier she had accused of rape, was never charged and spent £200,000 in legal fees on a private prosecution to clear his name. The CPS took over this prosecution and she was due in court to face this when she killed herself.
Coroner Chinyere Inyama was told that Ms de Freitas had left a note at the scene of her death on 4 April last year saying the prosecution attempts left her “ashamed to be British”, writing that her decision to end her life was “selfish” but said she would “bring shame on the family” if she lost the case. She had told her legal team in the run-up to the trial that “it would be better if I had been run over by a bus”.
The coroner, who ruled that the “impending court hearing was clearly a significant stressor” before her death, heard that Ms de Freitas felt there was “no way out” after the CPS decided to take her to court for perverting the course of justice.
She had previously been sectioned under the Mental Health Act and told her family she feared being readmitted to psychiatric care, West London Coroner’s Court heard. Her clinical psychologist also told the hearing that her mental condition meant she should not have faced tiral, and that there had been minimal communication from the CPS to him as the case against Ms de Freitas progressed. Dr Christopher Bench, the clinical psychologist at West London Mental Health Trust who had treated Ms de Freitas since 2009, wrote to her defence team in the run-up to the trial, declaring her “unfit for court”.
Ms de Freitas suffered a psychotic episode while shopping in a supermarket and her parents asked Dr Bench to see their daughter as a matter of urgency. “It was clear to me when I saw [Eleanor] that she was in a poor mental state,” Dr Bench told the inquest. [She was] both paranoid and psychotic and I felt on the basis of her history... she was not well enough to attend court in September [for her trial] and I made contact with her solicitor.”
But Dr Leslie Thomas QC, representing the de Freitas family, criticised Dr Bench for not recommending Ms de Freitas also see a female psychiatrist before her trial, given the likelihood she was to be interrogated about her entire sexual history. He also criticised West London Mental Health Trust, saying Ms de Freitas was “under their care” and that the Trust “ought to have known that she was at risk and at risk of taking her own life”.
Speaking outside court, Ms de Freitas’s father David, said the family were “extremely disappointed” the inquest had not considered whether the CPS had made mistakes in its handling of her case, and they were considering a bid for a judicial review.
“The coroner has accepted the prosecution was a significant stress which led to my daughter Eleanor taking her own life,” he said. “We are therefore disappointed the coroner did not allow us to explore what we believe are serious failings by a state body, namely the CPS.
“The coroner had simply accepted the CPS’s review of its own actions. The inquest should have been an opportunity for independent scrutiny and to learn lessons from this tragic death. As a result we are seriously considering a judicial review challenge of this inquest.”