Lawyers pledge to continue court battle after Cyprus judge rules against British teenager in gang rape case

Lawyers for a British teenager at the centre of a gang rape trial in Cyprus expressed deep disappointment on Thursday after the judge in the case ruled that a contentious retraction statement is admissible as evidence.

The 19-year-old woman claimed in July that she had been raped in a hotel room in the party town of Ayia Napa by a group of up to 12 Israeli teenagers.

Later that month she signed a retraction statement, with Cypriot police claiming she had concocted the story because she felt ashamed and humiliated after discovering that she had been filmed having sex with one of the Israelis.

The Israeli tourists were immediately released and returned home, celebrating at Ben Gurion airport with champagne and chanting “the Brit is a whore”.

Her team of British and Cypriot lawyers argue that the teenager was suffering from extreme trauma and that the retraction statement was made under duress after she had been “aggressively” questioned for eight hours by police without a lawyer or family member present.

She is on trial in a court in the town of Paralimni, a few miles from Ayia Napa, on a charge of causing public mischief by allegedly making the false rape claims.

The teenager, who cannot be named for legal reasons, has pleaded not guilty.

In a blow to her and her family, judge Michalis Papathanasiou ruled that police had behaved correctly and that the retraction statement, made on July 28, is admissible as evidence.

He dismissed accusations that the young woman, who was at the start of a summer working holiday in Cyprus, had been placed under duress to make the retraction.

He said her account of the alleged gang rape contained inconsistencies and contradictions.

“The statement was not taken under pressure or improper conditions,” the judge said. “The statement was given wilfully. I don’t find anything suspicious.”

Speaking outside court, Michael Polak, a British barrister and a member of the teenager’s legal team, said: “We are all obviously very disappointed and surprised by this decision. We think it’s a wrong decision. It’s surprising, given all the evidence.”

He criticised the fact that police did not make a recording of their questioning of the teenager.

“We think it’s stunning that in 2019 in a country of the European Union, what happens in a police station is not recorded in any manner. This opens up the police station as a place where pressure can be applied on witnesses. Despite all this, we will continue to fight the case.”

The judge dismissed evidence from key defence witnesses, including Dr Christine Tizzard, a British psychologist who said the teenager was suffering from a severe form of PTSD which could have propelled her to sign the retraction statement in order to escape a highly stressful situation.

He also dismissed evidence from Dr Andrea Nini, a forensic language expert from Manchester University, who said the retraction was penned in such poor English that it was “highly unlikely” that it was written by a native English speaker.

Awkwardly written phrases in the statement included the sentence: “I did sexual intercourse with them.”

The teenager previously told the court that she was “very well-educated”, had won an unconditional university offer and would never have written such a poorly-worded statement. She has had to forego her place at university because of the trial proceedings.

Listening to the judge’s ruling with the help of an interpreter, the young woman appeared tense, repeatedly rubbing her hand with a finger to the extent that she drew blood.

The court has heard previously that the Israeli teenagers had targeted the teenager and had bragged that they were going to “do orgies” with her.

Following her retraction, she was jailed for more than a month in a prison in Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus.

She was released on bail at the end of August but had her passport confiscated and has had to remain on the island ever since, reporting regularly to the police.

If convicted, the British teenager could be imprisoned for up to a year and fined up to €1,700.

Her lawyers said that if she is found guilty, they will take the case to the Supreme Court of Cyprus and, if defeated there, to the European Court of Human Rights.

The teenager’s family have set up a crowdfunding page to ask for money for her legal fees and have so far raised £44,000 out of a target of £80,000.  

The trial was adjourned until Friday, when both the prosecution and defence will call witnesses.

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