- 19-year-old is due to arrive back in the UK on Tuesday
- Teen’s lawyers confident of conviction being overturned
A British teenager found guilty of lying about being gang-raped in Cyprus can return home after she was handed a four-month suspended jail sentence.
The 19-year-old woman hugged her family and her legal team and left court weeping, with her head in her hands, after she was sentenced for public mischief.
The teenager’s mother shouted “she’s coming home” to supporters outside court, telling reporters she feels “relieved”.
Her English lawyer, Lewis Power QC, said she will be returning home on Tuesday.
She was later pictured arriving arm-in-arm with her mother at Larnaca airport to fly back to the UK.
The teenager, who has not been named, had faced being jailed for up to a year and a fine of up to 1,700EUR (£1,500) after she was convicted of public mischief late last month.
Her family had said they feared for her mental health if she was sent back to prison and hoped she will be allowed to return to the UK to be treated for PTSD.
But she is free to return home after Judge Michalis Papathanasiou told her he was giving her a “second chance”, PA Media reported.
He said: “I admit, I have been troubled over this. All the evidence shows that she had lied and prevented the police from doing other serious jobs.
“Twelve people were arrested and seven of them were there for at least 10 days. That was also a serious offence.
“Her psychological state, her youth, that she has been away from her family, her friends and academic studies this year.
“This has led me to decide to give her a second chance and suspend the sentence for three years.”
Supporters, including a group of about 60 from Israel who travelled to Cyprus specially, had gathered outside the court on Tuesday holding banners declaring: “We believe you.”
Adi Izrael said: “People took the day off work and came here because it is unbelievable, the amount of misinformation about it.
“Many people say: ‘We don’t know she was raped.’ But the way they (the Israelis) behaved, something is wrong with this case.
“The rape was obvious and it’s obvious she deserves our support.”
Elazar More said of the Israeli men and boys arrested over the alleged rape: “They are a shame to the men of Israel. They hurt the dignity of the state.”
Cypriot protester Meli Michaelidon said: “I’m here because I’m fed up of all this – the way the system works in Cyprus and how it’s not protecting the victims and not protecting the least powerful and how it’s making everything right for whoever is in power.”
The woman’s lawyer Power said: “This has been an incredibly sad and tragic case for a young teenage girl from Derbyshire, a once happy and gregarious young girl who, like so many of her age group, came over to Cyprus with all the excitement of a young traveller and with high aspirations to attend university thereafter.
“She was on the cusp of embarking upon a new chapter in her life but, under the most dire circumstances, she went overnight from being victim to being the accused, having to endure not only the dreadful physical violation of a premeditated gang rape and serious sexual assault perpetrated upon her, but also the prolonged mental ordeal under the judicial process in Cyprus, being accused of the offence of public mischief in that this was all a lie to the police.
“She is adamant of her innocence and that she has told the truth.”
He added that the teenager would strongly contest the conviction and continue her fight to clear her reputation.
He said: “This case has far-reaching repercussions for women travelling abroad and has highlighted the need for appropriate representation.
“This young woman has shown immense bravery, courage and fortitude in coming forward.
“Her identity has been compromised, she has been trolled viciously on social media and has been subjected to vile comments.
“Some of those who perpetrated this serious sexual assault returned to their homeland bragging triumphantly and unashamedly as to what they had done to her, compounding her trauma.”
Lawyer Michael Polak, from the Justice Abroad group which is also assisting the teenager, said he feels confident the conviction will be overturned at some point in the appeal process. He said: “Despite all the obstacles that the teenager has faced seeking justice for the terrible offences that she reported, she and her legal team remain committed to obtaining justice.”
The judge told Famagusta District Court on Tuesday the four month sentence would be suspended for three years.
Local media reports had suggested Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades was going to pardon her if she was given a custodial sentence.
The teenager had alleged she was raped by up to 12 Israeli tourists in a hotel room in the party town of Ayia Napa on July 17, but she has said Cypriot police forced her to sign a retraction statement.
Last week she appealed to prime minister Boris Johnson to “please bring me home” and described her experience as “a waking nightmare”.
Following the teenager’s suspended sentence, Labour leadership candidate Lisa Nandy tweeted: “The message this case sends to victims is that they will become the accused if they report rape. Boris Johnson should have intervened without hesitation.”
The teenager had been stuck on the island after she was charged and spent about a month in prison before being granted bail in August.
The dozen young men and boys, aged between 15 and 20 arrested over the incident were freed after she signed a retraction statement 10 days later.
The woman maintains she was raped after having consensual sex with one of the Israelis, but forced to change her account under pressure from Cypriot police.
The case hinged on a retraction statement signed by the teenager following hours of questioning alone and without legal representation.
One defence witness, Marios Matsakis, a forensic pathologist who formerly worked for the state, said the woman’s injuries were consistent with rape, and also pointed to a DNA test which suggested three of the men had sexual contact with her.
But prosecutors said she fabricated the allegation, angry at being filmed during sex.
Downing Street has said the Government had raised “numerous concerns” about the judicial process in the case with the Cypriot authorities.
“The Foreign Office will be working with Cyprus and other countries on how we can avoid cases like this happening ever again,” the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said.
“The woman’s lawyers have said they are going to appeal the verdict and we will await the outcome of that appeal.
“We have had numerous concerns about the judicial process in this case and the woman’s right to a fair trial, and we have made these clear to the Cypriot authorities.”