Graduates refused bail over Brazil allegations

Two British law graduates were "anxious and concerned" after being denied bail in Brazil over allegations they fraudulently claimed they had been robbed, their lawyer said today.

Shanti Andrews and Rebecca Turner, both 23, are being held in the tough Polinter prison south of Rio de Janeiro charged with attempted insurance fraud.

The pair, who both studied at the University of Sussex, told police in the Brazilian city that belongings totalling £1,000 had been stolen during a bus journey.

The pair were taken into custody at dawn on Monday after officers from a specialist tourist support unit apparently became suspicious that they had waited several days before reporting to police.

The website of the civil police of the state of Rio de Janeiro said the pair had tried to register a robbery of baggage and documents, alleging they had been attacked.

A subsequent search of their lodgings in Copacabana allegedly uncovered some of the belongings that they had originally told officers had been stolen.

Speaking from Rio de Janeiro today, their lawyer Renato Tonini said he was appealing against the judge's decision to refuse them bail.

He also said he was told by the judge that a decision would be made in up to four weeks' time on whether the charge they face has any merit.

Mr Tonini said: "We asked for their freedom on bail and the judge denied this on the grounds they were foreigners. We are appealing against this. In a worse-case situation, we will hear an answer to bail in a week's time."

The lawyer described the two women as being "anxious" and said: "They are very nervous and very concerned about their situation, and anxious too.

"They are in a tough prison but they are being treated well by both other prisoners and by the administration. They are being treated as if they were Brazilian.

"The general situation of our jails in Brazil is very, very bad, so the jail they are in is overcrowded, they have no beds to sleep in, they are sleeping on the floor and they don't have mattresses.

"They are simply sleeping on the floor with blankets, but we are fighting for their freedom right now. No plea has been entered to the charges yet.

"When I saw the judge yesterday, he told me that he will act very quickly and that in three to four weeks' time there will be a decision on the merit of the charges. The decision on bail will be decided first."

The charge faced by the two women carries a maximum prison sentence of more than three years, according to Mr Tonini, but that punishment, if found guilty, could also be meted out in the form of a fine or unpaid service.

Mr Tonini said he was "confident" that the women will be dealt with fairly by the Brazilian justice system following concerns voiced by Simone Headley, the mother of Miss Andrews, over their treatment.

"I think they will be treated fairly. Even though they are foreigners they will be treated in the same way as a Brazilian would facing the same charges," said Mr Tonini.

Ms Headley told earlier this week how the two friends were traumatised by their ordeal and that it had been a "misunderstanding" at the end of their nine-month journey around the world.

"We hope the Brazilian justice system will see it as a misunderstanding and the girls will be able to come home safely," said Ms Headley, who lives in Frant, near Tunbridge Wells, Kent.

Ms Headley was unavailable to comment today.