Singer who gave her lover HIV is spared jail

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The Independent Online

The German pop star Nadja Benaissa was handed a suspended two-year prison sentence yesterday for infecting her lover with HIV.

Benaissa, a singer in the band No Angels, had faced a maximum of 10 years in jail after she was found guilty of causing bodily harm to one man and attempted bodily harm to two others.

She admitted having unprotected sex while aware she was carrying HIV, but denied that she deliberately infected anyone. The court accepted she had shown remorse and that she did not believe she would pass on the virus.

Peter Liesenfeld, for the prosecution, called for the suspended sentence during closing arguments in the trial, saying: "She deserves lenient treatment because she had confessed to what she did and shown an understanding of her guilt. The confession was an important point that must be taken into consideration."

The trial has prompted vigorous debate in Germany. Some sexual health campaigners have argued that the high-profile nature of the case will make it harder to persuade carriers of STDs to be open about their condition, while others argued that the prosecution was an over-reaction. The news magazine Der Spiegel called the pursuit of the case "a stigmatising witch-hunt", and Aids support groups have worried that people carrying HIV will feel "pressured" to take sole responsibility for safe sex.

On Wednesday Benaissa admitted that she had been "cowardly" in keeping quiet about her infection. "I wish with all my heart that I could turn the clock back," she said in tears. "The fact is, I made a great mistake."

An Aids specialist told her trial in Darmstadt that she "almost certainly" was the source of her former lover's infection. Benaissa, 28, did with "probability bordering on certainty infect a man with HIV by having unprotected sex with him," said the medical expert, Josef Eberle.

It had been thought that Dr Eberle might muddy the facts in the case by saying the victim could have contracted the virus which can cause full-blown Aids from someone else.

But he told the court: "Ms Benaissa was the source of the infection", citing the fact that both she and the victim, now 34, both had "a relatively rare" strain of the virus.

No Angels was Germany's most successful girl band, and it enjoyed wide success across the continent. At the start of the trial the 34-year-old man who became infected by her said his life was in ruins. He also said that when he discovered his infection the band's management tried to buy his silence because they feared for the future of the group.

"You caused me so much grief," he told her in court last week. "My quality of life has shrunk enormously. I cannot travel to many countries. I have been told by my doctor that my condition can become full-blown Aids at any time. My income is halved but this is not about money. I am getting nausea all the time."

Benaissa said she was "careless during those days" of her youth and admitted she did not tell her sex partners about her condition. As to infecting one of the men she slept with she said: "I never wanted this to happen to one of my partners."

At the height of their success, No Angels were in the same league as the likes of Girls Aloud. They were discovered in 2000, on the TV talent show Popstars. They sold 5 million albums from 2000 to 2003.

They reformed in 2007, and competed in the 2008 Eurovision Song contest, but only came in 23rd.

The trial has been closely followed. "She has given this man a death sentence," said Rita Seewald, a 55-year-old cleaning lady from Berlin. "I think she got off likely. She should do time."

But Jan-Phillip Litz, a 23-year-old trainee kindergarten worker, said: "This punishment could have been achieved with a fixed-penalty letter."