Sex offence case failings by military prosecutor

Sex offence case failings by military prosecutor

A military prosecutor has been accused of serious failings in his handling of sexual assault and rape cases.

Concerns first emerged in 2012 and the family of an alleged victim were given assurances the prosecutor would undergo training and be closely supervised.

The BBC has learned claims were then made over his work on a later case.

The Ministry of Defence says “mistakes were made” in both incidents but the complainants want a review of all similar cases involving the prosecutor.

It comes after the MoD this year settled a civil action over alleged mistakes made by the prosecutor in the second case, which related to an alleged sexual assault in 2015.

Cpl Anne-Marie Ellement, from Bournemouth, died in October 2011 at Bulford barracks in Wiltshire. The coroner at her inquest found that bullying and the “lingering effect” of an alleged rape were factors in her suicide.

Cpl Ellement had alleged she was raped in 2009 by two fellow corporals.

Her case was investigated and the details passed on to the Service Prosecuting Authority (SPA). But it decided there was insufficient evidence to prosecute – a decision it later admitted was wrong.

In 2012, Cpl Ellement’s family and their lawyer, Emma Norton, requested a meeting with the SPA and the prosecutor in her case.

Khristina Swain, Anne-Marie’s sister, said: “He [the prosecutor] started going through what had happened, but certain things didn’t add up and I started to question what knowledge he actually had. And what experience did he have.”

The family were “aghast” at what they considered to be serious failings uncovered in the handling of Cpl Ellement’s case. The prosecutor had not completed specialist rape training and critical forensic tests, which could have helped form a prosecution, had been cancelled.

In 2015, following a fresh investigation, Jeremy Jones and Thomas Fulton were charged with rape. Both men were found not guilty at a court martial trial in 2016.

The family were told that lessons had been learnt from the initial investigation and say they were assured the prosecutor would be closely supervised in future cases.

However, the MoD this year settled a civil case in which further allegations of serious failings by the same prosecutor were made.

Alicia – not her real name – serves in the military and alleged she was sexually assaulted in 2015 at her barracks,

“He started kissing me,” she said.

“I told him no and I was trying to force him back, but it was like pushing against a brick wall. I just shut down.”

A suspect was arrested and charged but in 2017 he was acquitted.

Alicia had been concerned about the handling of the case prior to the court martial trial and submitted a complaint.

She had a meeting with senior figures in the service police and prosecuting authority following the acquittal.

Alicia says she was told: “You also need to know that your prosecutor was the one who dealt with the case of Cpl Ellement.”

She added: “I was told he [the prosecutor] should never have handled my case.”

In a letter sent to Alicia, seen by the BBC, the deputy director of service prosecutions acknowledges failures and formally apologised.

These included not informing Alicia she could give evidence via video link, a delay in submitting crucial documents until the day of the trial, and providing incorrect legal advice.

Alicia said: “I have been through hell but I don’t even know if I can blame the prosecutor. That is entirely the service justice system’s responsibility – they knew he had to be supervised.

“The military should never have handled my case in the first place. My case and how many other cases? The rape prosecutions in the civilian court are poor – but at least for us in the military – the civilian court provides independence.”

Alicia wants all sexual assault and rape cases involving the military to be tried in civilian courts, an issue Defence Secretary Ben Wallace is currently reviewing.

She added all of the cases of the prosecutor involved in her complaint should be independently reviewed.

An MoD spokesperson said: “Sexual assault is not tolerated in the armed forces and the service justice system must always provide an effective and fair route to justice for everyone.

“The MoD makes considerable effort to ensure the service justice system remains fit for purpose, including the commissioning of the independent Lyons Review, which reported earlier this year.

“Mistakes were made in the handling of these cases, for which the Service Prosecuting Authority has apologised.”

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