A multi-million pound prosecution by Scotland Yard’s war crimes unit against a former wife of Liberian warlord Charles Taylor collapsed today after her lawyers won a bid to have the case discontinued.
Agnes Reeves-Taylor, whose partner masterminded one of Africa’s bloodiest civil conflicts, was arrested two years ago at her home in east London, where she worked as a business studies lecturer.
The 54-year-old was charged with eight war crimes offences, including conspiring to use rape to torture women during the west African country’s civil war in 1990.
She was also accused of involvement in the torture of a child, who was tied to a tree and forced to watch people being shot.
However, lawyers for Ms Reeves-Taylor, who denied the charges, have now had the case against her dropped after a complex legal appeal that went to the Supreme Court.
Her defence team had argued that the prosecution should not have been brought in the first place because Ms Reeves-Taylor was not a serving state official at the time.
That meant that she was not liable to prosecution under current war crimes legislation.
The Supreme Court ruling is likely to be greeted with dismay by human rights groups, who had hailed the prosecution as a demonstration of Britain’s commitment to gaining justice for war crimes victims worldwide.
The case is also thought have been extremely costly: a trial at the Old Bailey, which was scheduled to ahead next year, was due to last around four months and cost Scotland Yard and the Crown Prosecution Service several million pounds, although the investigative groundwork was mainly done by human rights groups.
Charlie Loudon, international legal adviser at Redress, a London-based advocacy group for victims of torture, told The Telegraph: “This is a difficult result, principally for the victims of the alleged crimes, who will be denied the chance to have the allegations tested at a trial."
He added: “The priority is that the UK continues to invest in prosecuting cases like this.”
Ms Reeves-Taylor appeared at the Old Bailey on Friday via video link from Bronzefield women’s prison, where she has been in custody since her arrest in June 2017.
Prior to her detention she had a £44,000-a year job at the London annex of the University of Coventry.
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Ms Reeves-Taylor married Mr Taylor in 1986, shortly before he founded the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), a militia whose aim was to oust Liberia’s then-president Samuel Doe.
In 1989, the NPFL invaded Liberia triggering a brutal civil war in which more than 150.000 people died and half of the population fled.
Mr Taylor later sought asylum in Nigeria, but was extradited to the UN-backed tribunal in The Hague, and in 2012 was jailed for 50 years for war crimes. He is serving his sentence in a British prison.