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CPS apologises to woman over assault case collapse

The Crown Prosecution Service has apologised to a woman over failures in the collapse of a case against a man accused of assaulting her.

The woman was waiting to go into Ealing Magistrates' Court in west London, when she learned the prosecutor had suddenly decided to offer no evidence.

The CPS has launched an inquiry into the handling of the case.

It follows a similar recent apology to a woman in a sexual assault trial which also collapsed because of CPS failings.

'Shock and panic'

The woman in the latest case, who is in her 30s and wThe woman wants to be known only as Diya, says that after she ended a brief relationship the man involved began harassing her.

He was eventually charged with assault and harassment, and Diya prepared to go to court to give evidence against him.

She was in fear of her alleged attacker and asked if she could testify from behind a screen - a procedure known as special measures.

Diya describes what happened when she got to court: "I was told that the special measures had not been requested in time and as a result was rejected. This left me shocked and in panic".

Although she was frightened she wanted the case to go ahead and decided to go into the witness box without the screen.

As she approached the courtroom ready to testify, she saw the defendant thanking his defence team and walking free.

She then learned that the CPS lawyer had offered no evidence and the defendant had been formally acquitted.

Legal action

Diya says: "I begged for someone to tell me what was going on, I demanded answers from the prosecutor but he did not reply. I was in despair."

A lawyer who was inside the courtroom on another case has produced a statement which says: "There was no sign of the witness coming into court and I fully expected the prosecutor to ask the bench if he could go and check what was happening or ask the usher to go outside to see if there is a problem.

"He did neither of these things. No one went outside to check why the witnesses had not come into court.

"The prosecutor then told the court that in the circumstances he had no alternative but to offer no evidence in the case.

"The magistrates seemed somewhat surprised by this but confirmed that was his intention and then dismissed the case."

Diya is now trying to bring legal action against the CPS.

'Unsatisfactory circumstances'

In a statement to the BBC, Alison Saunders, chief crown prosecutor CPS London, said: "I would like to offer my apologies to the complainant in this case as it is clear that she did not receive the service to which she was entitled and which we provide as a matter of policy.

"I have asked for a full inquiry into the circumstances which led to our decision to offer no evidence in this case.

"Once that is concluded, I will offer to meet with the complainant to advise her of the steps we have taken to ensure these unsatisfactory circumstances are not repeated."

The CPS has also confirmed that the prosecutor failed to ask for a restraining order on the man, as Diya had requested.

Sandra Horley, chief executive of domestic violence charity Refuge, said many women were still being let down by the criminal justice system.

She said: "Sadly, so often police officers fail to investigate cases or gather appropriate evidence. Too often cases don't get to court and even when they do, prosecutors are often poorly prepared, forget to apply for special measures or fail to ask for restraining orders."

Failings admitted

Last month, the Director of Public Prosecutions for England and Wales, Keir Starmer QC, apologised to a woman in a case of an alleged serious sexual assault.

The woman, known only as Josephine, was also not able to give evidence from behind a screen as she had wanted.

The CPS paid her £16,000 in compensation after it admitted failings in the case and breaching Josephine's human rights.

During her testimony she inadvertently let slip that she understood her alleged attacker was in prison for another offence.

The trial had to be stopped and the defendant was acquitted. Josephine said prosecutors blamed her for the collapse of the case. The CPS admitted the man should have faced a retrial.

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