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”.