Northern Ireland

Appeal judges quash rape conviction

A man jailed in 2009 for raping a woman in Belfast has had his conviction quashed at the Court of Appeal.

Senior judges ruled the guilty verdict returned against Tonderai Chakwana was unsafe after hearing of an undisclosed alteration to his accuser's statement.

Mr Chakwana, a 38-year-old father of three originally from Zimbabwe, said he may now file a claim for damages.

"I protested my innocence from day one, I was jailed and was on the point of being deported," he said.

"I'm just relieved that justice has been served at last."

Mr Chakwana was convicted at Belfast Crown Court in 2009 of raping the woman the previous July, after the trial jury rejected his account of having consensual sex with her.

The Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), an independent body which investigates suspected miscarriages of justice, referred his case to the Court of Appeal.

A central issue was the alleged editing of the woman's original statement by a member of staff at the Public Prosecution Service.

Judges were told part of a sentence was removed from her account without either defence or prosecuting teams being informed at trial.

Mr Chakwana's barrister, Mark Barlow, said on Wednesday that if defence lawyers had known of the alteration, they could have further sought to undermine the woman's credibility.

A further ground of appeal centred on potential inadequacies in the trial judge's direction to the jury.

Ciaran Murphy QC, appearing for the prosecution, said neither he nor the PPS were challenging that the guilty verdict was safe.

The judges will give reasons for their decision at a later date, but Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan said there was "no question of a retrial in this case".

As the ruling was delivered Mr Chakwana embraced his wife in the public gallery.

Outside the court he revealed his intention to go to university to complete an engineering degree he started in prison.

His solicitor, Clive Neville of Trevor Smyth and Co, said the case raised issues of huge importance.

"At no stage until the CCRC got hold of this statement did the PPS lawyer alert anyone to this," he said.

"Has this ever happened before? These are obviously issues of concern for all defence lawyers.

"No matter what action Mr Chakwana now takes, he can't recover the loss of his liberty."

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