A woman accused of beating herself up and faking her own violent rape has launched a bid to clear her name.
Layla Ibrahim, 29, from Carlisle, was seven months pregnant when she was given a three-year jail sentence in 2010 for perverting the course of justice. She had no history of mental illness and no previous criminal record. Her daughter spent the first year of her life in prison following Ibrahim’s conviction.
Now released, but reportedly unable to find work because of her criminal record, Ibrahim is launching an appeal with the criminal cases review commission, which examines possible miscarriages of justice. Ibrahim’s lawyers claim crucial forensic evidence was destroyed or ignored and that police failed to properly investigate witness sightings and possible suspects. In a letter written to the commission, her legal team allege that Cumbria police spent £153,990.95 to “prove” their hunch she had invented the entire account.
During her trial in July 2010, the prosecution accepted that Ibrahim had sustained significant injuries to her breasts and genitals before police had been called to see her on 4 January 2009. She had turned up distressed at her sister’s house in Carlisle in the early hours, saying she had been attacked on her way back from a night out with friends. She was in a dishevelled state, with her dress, bra and leggings showing signs of damage. She had also suffered a blow to her head, which may have been caused when she was knocked to the ground, and had lacerations, scratches and bruising to her knees, breasts and face, and was bleeding from the vagina.
A forensic physician, Dr Jason Payne-James, gave evidence at the trial suggesting most of her injuries “could” have been self-inflicted, with the intimate bruising perhaps caused by consensual sex of some sort. But Ibrahim’s new legal team argue Payne-James’s evidence was “highly speculative” and unreliable. It was challenged in court at the time by another forensic expert, Dr Catherine White, who has now written questioning the conviction.
When interviewed by police, Ibrahim said she had been attacked by two strangers and had lost consciousness but was not sure if she had been sexually assaulted. She talked only of recalling a “thud” in her vagina which she described as being like having an object in her vagina that was too big.
She told officers she had defended herself against the men with a pair of scissors from her handbag, swinging them at one of her attackers. The second man had taken the scissors from her, she said, and used them to cut her hair, before both men fled the scene. They took one of her shoes, perhaps to slow her escape.
She was taken for a forensic examination, in which a blond pubic hair was discovered – strongly suggesting intimate contact between her and another. But this potentially vital piece of evidence was destroyed in the lab during DNA testing, her lawyers say. Bloodstained leaves were found near the scene –the blood came from a male and was capable of forming a complete profile; however, this did not match any profiles on the DNA database at the time. Ibrahim told police she had fought off her attackers with her hands, yet her lawyers assert that her bloodstained ring was not tested for DNA, despite one of the officers writing in their notebook that this should be done. Ibrahim says she was later told the ring had been lost and it formed no part of the court case.
Her shoes and leggings were also not tested for DNA, according to her legal team. In their submission to the review commission, they note: “There can be little worse than suffering an attack of this nature and then being disbelieved, prosecuted and imprisoned. If Ms Ibrahim’s account is true (and, for the avoidance of doubt, we believe that it is) the injustice of her wrongful conviction is one of the most serious failures of the criminal justice system in recent times. We would ask you to note that our client has now served her sentence and has been released – this is not an attempt to appeal by a person seeking release from custody, but by a person seeking justice.”
The CCRC has the power to send cases to the appeal courts if its experts think there is a real possibility that appeal judges will quash a conviction or change a sentence. Usually the CCRC only considers cases where someone has already tried to appeal, unless there are “exceptional circumstances”.
Plans to compel professionals to report their concerns that children are being abused have been rejected by the UK’s leading child protection charity, provoking fury from a victim support group.
A proposal to introduce “mandatory reporting”, which is observed in many other countries, has exposed a schism among groups representing doctors, nurses, police and social workers, with some expressing fears that they would struggle to cope with the increase in abuse investigations that it would generate.
The government’s consultation on reporting and acting on child abuse and neglect was launched amid concerns about past abuse in some of the country’s major institutions. High-profile inquiries, such as that into the paedophile Jimmy Savile, revealed how many people suspected abuse but failed to report their fears.
Under the new proposal teachers, doctors and other employees in regulated professions who work with children would be legally obliged to report suspicions that a child was being abused.
However, the plan has been rejected by the NSPCC. It warns that victims might be deterred from opening up to adults if they know what they say will automatically trigger an investigation. The charity gives the hypothetical example of a teacher who is worried about a child because he or she is turning up to school hungry or unkempt, a sign that the child is at risk of neglect.
According to the NSPCC, under mandatory reporting teachers would be bound to raise their concerns with the local authority immediately. This would trigger a child protection investigation, one that might be unnecessary if the teachers had been able to use their professional judgment and talk to the children and their parents to establish what was happening.
The NSPCC is in favour of mandatory reporting for “closed institutions” such as hospitals and boarding schools, on the grounds that they have smaller networks of adults for children to confide in and are likely to place greater pressure on their employees to protect their reputation. But for other institutions the NSPCC backs a proposal for a duty to act, which would allow professionals not to automatically report their concerns but to consider “appropriate” action that they believe to be in the best interests of the child. In all cases, however, the decision would be recorded and the professionals would be held accountable for their actions.
“We think that this may make it more likely that children are given the support they need according to their circumstances and it leaves professionals with some discretion to decide what action is appropriate,” the NSPCC says in a briefing that accompanies its submission to the consultation.
The issue is becoming deeply divisive. Submissions to the consultation reveal that the children’s commissioner is against mandatory reporting, as is the National Police Chiefs Council, the British Association of Social Workers and the Royal College of Nursing. But both the National Association of Head Teachers union and the British Medical Association say they are broadly in favour.
Tom Perry, founder of Mandate Now, a victim support group that campaigns for a change in the law, branded the duty to act option, favoured by the government, “unworkable”.
“It suggests a legal duty should exist at all points in the child protection system to act in an ‘appropriate’ manner,” Perry said. “It doesn’t define what it means by ‘appropriate’ and acknowledges it will vary from case to case. The government then suggests most cases would be addressed by disciplinary rather than criminal sanctions, meaning there would be no change since disciplinary sanctions already exist and don’t work.”
Perry said mandatory reporting had been shown to work in other countries. “People faced with having to report suspicions of abuse naturally ask themselves, ‘What if I’m wrong?’ Gaze aversion is a significant challenge. The culture of child protection has to change and mandatory reporting in institutional settings will help make that happen. It has in the majority of countries on all four continents which have some form of the law.”