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10am 17th March 2015 

West London Coroner’s Court, 25 Bagleys Lane, Fulham, London SW6 2QA
Before Senior Coroner Chinyere Inyama

Eleanor de Freitas was a 23 year old woman diagnosed with bipolar affective disorder and a community patient with West London Mental Health Trust. 

On 4 January 2013 she made an allegation to the police that she had been raped. The police conducted an investigation but declined to charge. On 13 August 2013 Eleanor was notified by solicitors acting for the accused that he was bringing a private prosecution against her for perverting the course of justice.

After being notified of the private prosecution Eleanor’s mental health deteriorated. Eleanor’s legal representatives made representations to the CPS to take over the prosecution with a view to discontinuing it. However, on 5 December 2013 the CPS took the decision to take over the case and continue with the prosecution.

Now as a Defendant rather than a complainant in a sexual offence trial, Eleanor was denied any protections from personal exposure (such as anonymity or cross examination of previous sexual history) that would have been available to her as a complainant.

On 4 April 2014, three days before her trial was set to commence, Eleanor tragically took her own life.

On 7 November 2014, following submissions from the family’s barrister, the coroner agreed to adjourn the hearing following an announcement by the DPP that she would review the  CPS’ decision to prosecute.

The family are hoping that the inquest will explore the impact of the prosecution on Eleanor taking her own life and the wider public interest of prosecuting rape complainants for perverting the course of justice. Prosecutions of this type are rare and the CPS recognises in its own guidance that they require specific and sensitive considerations.

Eleanor’s father David de Freitas said:

“The most important thing for us is that lessons are learnt from the tragic death of our daughter. We hope that the inquest will explore the important public interest issues regarding prosecutions of rape complainants and the appropriate protections and care that should be put in place for vulnerable people like Eleanor. In view of the importance of this case and its tragic consequences, we need to make sure that existing guidelines and practices were adhered to and that any shortcomings in these guidelines and practices are identified and remedied so that no other vulnerable young women and their families have to suffer as we and Eleanor did.”        

Deborah Coles, Co director of inquest said:

"This case raises important issues of public importance regarding the treatment of rape complainants.  In addition to the specific vulnerabilities of this particular group, Eleanor suffered from a diagnosed serious mental illness.

There must now be a robust and thorough inquest in order to appropriately consider whether Eleanor received adequate support under the care of West London Mental Health Care Trust and to what extent the prosecution of Eleanor impacted on her life.“

Harriet Wistrich, solicitor for the family, said:

“This inquest offers an important opportunity to ensure that lessons are learnt from this needless death and so as to ensure that similar tragic outcomes are avoided in the future.”

INQUEST has been working with the family of Eleanor de Freitas since September 2014. The family is represented by INQUEST Lawyers Group members Harriet Wistrich of Birnberg Peirce and barristers Leslie Thomas QC and Catherine Oborne of Garden Court Chambers. 

Filed under: Inquests, Mental health
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