UK

Eleanor De Freitas suicide inquest adjourned

Eleanor de Freitas Image copyright Family
Image caption Three days before Ms De Freitas was due in court in April, she took her own life

An inquest into the death of a woman who killed herself days before she was due to face court accused of making a false rape claim has been adjourned.

Director of public prosecutions Alison Saunders said she had asked for a "full explanation" from the team of prosecutors that brought the case.

Eleanor De Freitas, 23, who had bipolar disorder, died in April after leaving notes saying she was scared of court.

Her father David wants the inquest to heard by a jury, not just a coroner.

Outside West London Coroner's Court, lawyer Harriet Wistrich said the family was "very pleased" the inquest had been adjourned.

She said they looked forward to taking up Ms Saunders' offer to meet the family and that they hoped her inquiry would be "broad and will look into the very serious issues that we've sought to raise".

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionEleanor's father David described the impact of the prosecution on his daughter as "utterly devastating"

Adjourning the case until "a date to be fixed", senior coroner Chinyere Inyama told West London Coroner's Court he was waiting for written confirmation of Ms Saunders' remit, which he is expecting on Monday.

'Couldn't cope'

Ms De Freitas made the rape complaint to the Metropolitan Police in early 2013.

But the man she said attacked her took out a private prosecution, accusing her of perverting the course of justice after police said there was insufficient evidence to pursue the case.

Ms De Freitas' solicitors asked the CPS to halt the private action but instead the CPS decided to take it over and continue it.

Three days before Ms De Freitas was due to stand trial in April, she took her own life.

She had suffered a mental breakdown during her first year at Durham University and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder for which she received medical treatment.

Her family want the inquest into her death to be treated as a special type of legal case where a jury could consider whether public bodies could have done more to prevent a death.


Analysis

By Dominic Casciani, BBC News home affairs correspondent

In January 2011, the then DPP said he would personally oversee decisions to charge people with making a false rape allegation.

Over the following 17 months, lawyers considered 121 alleged false claims and charged in 35 cases.

In other words, taking someone to court for falsely alleging rape is pretty rare.

So the simple question for the CPS is why it thought it was in the public interest to continue with this private prosecution, rather than stop it, given Ms De Freitas' documented mental health problems - and its duty to take all circumstances into account before putting someone in the criminal dock.

Under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, public bodies must account for their actions if they were either involved in a death or they could have done something to prevent it. That typically leads to an inquest before a jury, rather than just before a coroner.

And that is why the family's lawyers want a wider investigation - because they fear that a narrow inquest won't allow the full circumstances of this tragedy to be understood.


Earlier David De Freitas said his daughter feared the prospect of standing trial but had "masked" what she was going through to avoid being sectioned under the Mental Health Act.

"In the end, she couldn't cope with it and it was tragic, tragic, tragic," she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

In a statement, Ms Saunders said she wanted to meet the family after she had completed her investigation.

Image caption Alison Saunders said the case was "one of the most difficult I have seen"

"I have asked the team which dealt with this case for a full explanation which addresses all of the De Freitas family's concerns," she said.

She described the case as "one of the most difficult" she had seen.

'Tragic and troubling'

Labour's Emily Thornberry, the shadow attorney general, welcomed Ms Saunders' involvement and also supported the call for a special inquest under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

"They deserve independent answers, not just an explanation from the CPS," she said.

Adam Pemberton, from the charity Victim Support, which helps rape and sexual assault victims, said it could have "serious implications" on the willingness of victims to report rape.

He said: "This is a tragic and troubling case which raises broader concerns about the use of private prosecutions against rape complainants and whether or not they are fair and appropriate in such circumstances."

More on this story