Woman may sue over arrest: Lawyer says she was fondled, threatened with rape, abused and struck in a Paris police cell

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The Independent Online
AN ENGLISH solicitor is to take legal action against the French police, who she claims subjected her to a brutal ordeal in a Paris police cell.

Liz Briscoe, who runs a practice specialising in human rights and hardship cases from her home in Stevenage, says she was accused of being a prostitute, and body-searched by two male policemen while others looked on. She says that when she protested about officers fondling her she was struck in the face, threatened with gang rape and verbally abused. The British embassy said last week it would look into the matter.

Ms Briscoe, 34, was picked up in the early hours of Monday morning after a row with her boyfriend over his refusal to drive her to Charles de Gaulle Airport for an 8.30am flight.

She says she was spotted by police trying to hail a taxi near where she had been staying. 'They said as I was out at that time trying to stop cars I must be a prostitute or a hitch-hiker and either is illegal.'

According to a French embassy spokesman, Paris police said she was drunk but Ms Briscoe, who suffers from a severe thyroid condition, says she was angry and upset. 'I had been drinking earlier in the evening but how could they think I was a prostitute? I had my bags and my passport with me. I didn't take them seriously, the whole situation was stupid.'

She was taken to a nearby police station. 'After I had been there a while one of the officers in the station turned nasty and said in French: 'Why are we wasting time with this whore? She's a tramp.' '

Ms Briscoe, who speaks rudimentary French, says she understood what was said and reacted angrily. 'I told them I was a lawyer in England. I lost my temper and abused him back.

'The police got really angry then and took me into the station interview room. They took away my jewellery and shoelaces then two of them started searching me while the others watched. I said a woman should be doing the search and they wouldn't find anything in my left breast or up my skirt. They just got abusive.' She claims one of the officers struck her on the face.

According to Ms Briscoe, one of the officers exposed himself to her and suggested a gang bang. 'I said that if they tried anything a lot of people would be hurt, there would be a lot of DNA evidence and there would be a huge scandal afterwards. They pushed me into another room . . . and came up from time to time, waving my underwear and sniffing it in front of me.'

After a time, she said, she was removed from that room and placed in a dark cell. 'The police would come up to the door, put the light on and pretend there was a phone call for me. If I moved they would say 'Oh sorry, they hung up'.'

At 8.20am she was released from the police station and told that she should be on the next flight out of France. 'I told them my ticket was for the 8.30am flight and they said it was not their problem. I asked for the possessions they had taken and one of the policemen manhandled me out of the door with my bags.'

She returned to her friend's apartment and borrowed enough money for a flight home. Because Monday was a bank holiday in France she was able only to leave a message at the British embassy in Paris.

When she unpacked her bags she found she had been charged with causing a public disturbance. 'The charge sheet was tucked into one of my clean pairs of knickers,' she said. 'The situation is very serious because if I am convicted I could be disbarred.'

Ms Briscoe was examined in London by her doctor, Judith Hall, who said Ms Briscoe was upset when describing what happened. She recorded the marking on her cheek where she was struck and has submitted a report on her condition to the French embassy.

Ms Briscoe said yesterday she was compiling a formal complaint and investigating whether she can sue the police in Paris. 'I will be demanding compensation for the way I was treated and I have the backing of the Law Society. This episode highlights the kind of case that I have been working on.'

Ms Briscoe worked in England on the cases of Karyn Smith and Patricia Cahill, who were held in Bangkok for drug smuggling. 'I am weeks away from launching a charity to support people arrested overseas under similar circumstances. What has happened to me just illustrates the need for representation for people arrested while travelling abroad.'

A spokesman for the Foreign Office said that a consular official had tried to contact Ms Briscoe before she left France. 'If (Ms Briscoe) contacts us again we will be happy to investigate.'

(Photograph omitted)