Lawyers for British woman convicted over Cyprus rape claim ‘happy’ after appeal hearing

·4-min read
Screengrab taken from video of a British teenager, who cannot be named, and her mother at the earlier trial in Cyprus (PA) (PA Archive)
Screengrab taken from video of a British teenager, who cannot be named, and her mother at the earlier trial in Cyprus (PA) (PA Archive)

Lawyers representing a British woman convicted of lying about being gang-raped in Cyprus have said they are “happy” after an appeal hearing at the country’s Supreme Court.

The 21-year-old university student, from Derby, is said to be “anxious but upbeat” ahead of a ruling on the appeal, which could come in between one and six months’ time.

She was 19 when she was given a suspended four-month jail term last year by a Cypriot judge who found her guilty of public mischief following a trial at Famagusta District Court in Paralimni.

The woman told police she was attacked by up to 12 Israeli tourists in a hotel room in the party town of Ayia Napa on July 17 2019, but was charged after signing a retraction statement 10 days later.

She has maintained she was pressured by officers to withdraw the rape allegation and has vowed to clear her name, having flown home from the island hours after being sentenced.

Her team of English and Cypriot lawyers took her appeal to the Supreme Court in the capital Nicosia, on Thursday, arguing the conviction is unsafe and should be set aside.

The woman did not attend the two-hour hearing, conducted in Greek in front of a panel of three judges, including the English-born president of the Supreme Court, Persefoni Panayi.

Adamos Demosthenous, representing the Cyprus attorney general, said the appeal should not be heard because the woman had criticised the trial judge in an ITV documentary, but the court ruled against the submission and heard the arguments.

The woman’s lawyers said the retraction statement, which formed the basis of the prosecution case, should never have been admitted into evidence because it was made by a vulnerable teenager who had spent almost seven hours in a police station without a lawyer.

Her Cypriot lawyer Nicoletta Charalambidou, also said the lower court started from the position that there was no rape and had misunderstood the offence of public mischief, which requires a false statement of a make-believe crime.

She said the trial judge, Michalis Papathanasiou, did not allow the defendant to talk about the alleged rape, pointing to the seven times he said: “This is not a rape trial.”

He was also said to have ignored defence expert evidence and failed to consider police failures in investigating the rape allegations.

Sentencing her last January, the judge said the evidence showed she had “lied” but added: “Her psychological state, her youth, that she has been away from her family, her friends and academic studies this year, this has led me to decide to give her a second chance and suspend the sentence for three years.”

The Supreme Court judges reserved judgment on the appeal.

Speaking after the hearing the woman’s English barrister, Lewis Power QC, said: “I think it was a very fruitful hearing where the court asked very poignant questions, considered the legal arguments and identified the points which will ultimately decide this appeal.

“We cannot pre-empt the decision of the court, but we were glad to see the court had given much thought and considerable consideration to a very, very difficult case.”

Another member of the legal team, Michael Polak, added: “Without wanting to pre-judge the decision of the Supreme Court, we feel we were happy with the way proceedings went today and the way the judges engaged with our arguments.”

If the appeal fails, the lawyers plan to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which the woman’s lawyers said found against Cyprus after a teenager was taken to a police station in Limassol and separated from his father before confessing to murder without a lawyer present.

Mr Power added: “This is the biggest case here in the last decade beyond a shadow of a doubt and the world is watching.

“It is so important for young women across the world. This case is a beacon.”

He said he had spoken to the woman and her mother, adding: “She’s bearing up really well. She is getting on with her life at university.

“She is very anxious about the result but she is fairly upbeat and determined that this won’t ruin her life.

“We spoke to her yesterday and her mother. They are back in the UK watching from afar.”

The case has attracted widespread publicity and dozens of protesters gathered outside the court building, banging drums, chanting and clapping their hands.

One banner read “End rape culture” and another, “I believe her”.

Christina Kaili, from the Mediterranean Institute of Gender Studies, said: “The Cyprus justice system must comply with international conventions and make sure that victims have access to justice, protection and to feel that they are believed.”

The 12 Israeli young men and boys, aged between 15 and 20 at the time, arrested over the incident denied any wrongdoing, were freed and returned home.

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