Defence highlights alleged victim's antagonism as police station rape trial enters final stretch

The defence makes its closing arguments in the trial of a police officer accused of raping a female colleague and sexually assaulting another while on duty, telling court that the victim's claims did not stand up to scrutiny

The defence has started making its closing arguments in the trial of a police officer accused of raping a female colleague and sexually assaulting another while on duty, telling presiding judge Consuelo Scerri Herrera that the victims’ claims did not stand up to scrutiny.

Lawyer Franco Debono began by quoting a question made by Inspector Mark Mercieca to the defendant during his interrogation. 

The lawyer said this indicated that the inspector had strong doubts after the first statement, to the extent that he felt the need to ask the defendant whether [victim #1] took offence at the fact that someone else had caught his eye.

The lawyer listed the crimes for which the defendant was on trial. Rape, illegal arrest, sexual harassment at the workplace and harassment.

There was no contesting that sex took place, he said, the central issue to be examined was whether there was consent.

Reminding the judge that the prosecution needed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the sex had taken place without consent, he pointed out that “witness after witness testified that she was a liar.”

The testimony of the other female officer, who had allegedly been sexually harassed was different to that given by the officer allegedly raped. This was a question of courting, he said, arguing that there were different approaches to this. 

With regards to the second female officer, the defendant had not attempted to hide the fact that he was infatuated with her, and had even said so in his statement, said the lawyer.

Debono invited the court to remember the alleged rape victim’s attitude in court. When the judge had asked her whether she had still been in a relationship with the father of her child at the time of the alleged rape. “She said yes. Then the court asked her again and this frightened woman replied ‘I don’t know what this has to do with the case because these are personal matters.’”

Debono recalled “sweating blood” during the compilation of evidence in his efforts to elicit an answer from her about her interactions with another male officer. “She didn’t even tell us that she kissed him, but was just a friend. It took her five years to admit to having kissed him. This is the type of person making the allegations about the defendant.”

In the accused’s recorded statement, which had been played in court earlier today, he had told the interrogating officer that she had told him about kissing the other officer. “He had no other way of knowing about it unless she had told him.”

The lawyer excoriated the version of events postulated by the alleged rape victim. “Who can believe that rape can take place inside an open police station, in the middle of Msida, at 8pm? Her car was outside…It wasn’t in the middle of nowhere, it is one of the busiest traffic intersections in Malta.”

Debono pointed out that this alleged victim had a habit of throwing her colleagues under the bus to save herself.

“Look at what these people went through. A police inspector reduced to tears, a sergeant she accused of always sleeping on duty, another she accused of spying on them. She clearly wasn’t as afraid of the disciplinary board as she claimed to be, because she told a superior “inżabbab” when ordered to move some barriers.

The sleep of a police officer at the police station would be light, Debono argued, “so had she shouted or knocked something over, he would have woken up.” 

Quoting the testimony of the alleged rape victim, Debono read: “first he dragged me, then he pulled me by the arm, then he pushed me to walk. It’s getting milder and milder. Which one of these was it? Besides the fact that she had every opportunity to avoid the shift, ask her colleague to stay with her, or leave.”

The lawyer pointed out that she would change her shifts to work with the person who is supposed to have raped her.

The version of events given by the defendant made more sense, he said. “They were talking about her kissing the other officer and while they were on the subject, what happened happened.”

As soon as the other female constable came into the picture, things changed, Debono said.

Even though the court had pointed out to the woman the incongruence of her claim that her fear of appearing before a board was greater than her fear of being raped, the lawyer went on.

He questioned her claim of having plucked up the courage to speak out to prevent the second alleged victim, a new team member with whom she wasn’t the best of friends, from going through the same ordeal that she had. 

The officers she had confided in had suggested she speak to a lawyer or offered to have a word with the defendant. “She claimed that when she told the Sergeant about the incident, he had taken it lightly. He sent her to speak to a lawyer and she refused! Does this strike you as truthful?”

What set her off was the new girl asking for a copy of the key to the toilet, he said, suggesting that she had been worried that she would use it for sexual encounters with the defendant.

The other alleged victim had repeatedly told the court that she had been “handling it,” pointed out the lawyer. “I want to be clear that every woman has the right not to be harassed. But she told us ‘I was handling it and to me, it was a joke.’”

Her interpretation of the incident only changed after she spoke with the alleged rape victim, he said, highlighting the fact that she had said that she wouldn’t have reported it otherwise.

“She made a reappraisal of what happened on the basis of things [victim#1] had told her, which weren’t true. She was swayed by the impression that what her colleague told her was the truth.”

Building what he called “an identikit of her character traits,” Debono said that the fact that the officer claiming to have been raped had accused everyone around her of mistreating her out of jealousy, would point to the jealousy problem actually being hers.

“Even that the Commissioner of Police got flack from her because he didn’t call her up,” he remarked.

“So is everyone in the wrong? One asleep, one jealous of her….one ended up cautioned, the other labelled a peeping Tom. Not only denying her own mistakes but shifting the blame onto her peers.”

He invited the court to also consider the fact that as a policewoman, the alleged victim was trained to handle dangerous situations. “What do you do when someone comes to you to report being raped?”

“If you are saying that he raped you in a police station, why didn’t you report it? She said he would threaten her. But we know what threats are. When asked about the threats, she said the defendant would call her names in front of her office pals.”

None of her office co-workers had been called to testify, pointed out the lawyer.

“She said ‘they would take the piss out of me, him and Steve.’ Look how far we have slid from threats,” remarked the lawyer. 

Her explanations for not reporting the rape earlier were not credible, he said.

“She was afraid of not being believed. ‘Because that’s what I thought.’  She didn’t go to a doctor or take any photos of her bruises, just in case she decided to file a report later.

The officer's alleged raped had cast aspersions on all her other colleagues, he said. “She said that a sergeant allowed the defendant to take women out for a drive in the squad car, another went to sleep ‘as usual,’ “I think they conspired together,’ about another two officers.”

“The officer who had allegedly been groped told us ‘if he fancied me, he could have offered to drive me home.’  Ironically, the defendant had done precisely that.”

He posited that the defendant had given an account of events that made sense, while on the other hand, the alleged victim claimed to have been raped inside a police station with a sergeant asleep nearby and had done nothing about it, and had then given a series of banal reasons for not taking action. “Can this be believed?”

The woman had a “certain resistance to telling the truth,” he said. “It took her five years to get her to tell us that she would kiss her colleague. Can we rely on her to find this man guilty of such a serious crime?”

Due to shortcomings in the investigation, there was no medical certification of any injuries. “What do I have here? Her word. Is there any corroboration? The court itself asked her why she hadn’t gone to a doctor. Was she scared of him too? Her boyfriend?”

“All I saw was a procession of scared and traumatised police officers.”

The defendant is now married and expecting a baby, said the lawyer. Still on half pay. “She left a massacre in her wake. It’s not fair that everyone who didn’t subscribe to her point of view ended up intimidated, some of them cautioned, one of them charged.”

“Rape is an ugly crime, there are no two ways about it. But equally ugly is falsely alleging rape.” The desired outcome is justice being done for all involved.

Earlier: Alleged victim’s superior officer “stunned” at claims of bullying, says victim lied under oath

Earlier in today’s sitting, the defence summoned Inspector Lara Butters, who had been one of the alleged victim’s direct superiors, to the witness stand.

Asked about the claim that she would bully the rape victim, Butters told the judge that she had first heard this claim in the news. “I was stunned. I had never made any reports about her. Yes, I drew her attention to shortcomings on her part.” 

The inspector said she had gone through her chat history with the woman to refresh her memory and had found nothing to suggest she had mentioned bullying to her. 

Other officers would go to the inspector, complaining about mistakes that the alleged victim had made while entering reports in the police database. “I would try to correct them.”

Lawyer Edward Gatt suggested that the alleged victim had, therefore, lied about her in court. “It is a lie, yes.”

Cross-examined by prosecuting lawyer Darlene Grima as to whether the inspector had filed formal proceedings about the outfits which the officer allegedly raped would wear to work while on light duties and exempt from wearing her uniform. “No, I spoke to her to avoid escalating the matter.” The constable’s manner of the dress had subsequently improved, she said.

Grima suggested that the inspector herself would also go to work dressed provocatively, but Inspector Butters denied ever wearing that sort of outfit to the police station.

The inspector also denied the prosecutor’s assertion that she had been reproached by Assistant Commissioner Alexandra Mamo about this, inviting the lawyer to summon her to testify “right now” and ask her about it.

The prosecutor’s suggestion that the alleged dress issue was “indicative of the inspector’s permissive character,” led to a frank and loud exchange of views with Gatt, who said that the prosecutor “should be ashamed of herself for first reducing a police inspector to tears on the witness stand and then insulting the character of another inspector” while she was testifying.

Answering another question about the alleged victim, Butters recalled that “she would want to stay at the station most of the time.”

The trial continues tomorrow.