The man who attacked writer Phoebe Greenwood on her own doorstop and stole her bag got off scot-free for one reason — she had been drinking.
It sounds crazy, but sadly it’s true.
Writing in The Guardian, Greenwood shared the story of her horrific experience. She arrived home after a night out, during which she had a few cocktails, and a man appeared from out of nowhere and punched her three times in the face: twice in the jaw and once in the mouth. He used such force that he broke her front teeth in half and damaged her jaw so severely that she “had to eat mush through a straw for the next month”.
While the police were “sympathetic” to start with, the charges of GBH ended up being dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), despite Greenwood having picked the man out of a lineup and being prepared to give evidence.
Shortly before the trial date, she was contacted by the CPS and told that the case had been dropped.
“I turned to the officer in charge of my case for a fuller explanation,” she said. “He said the CPS didn’t think the artist’s sketch and the suspect looked alike. Moreover, ‘they have grave concerns about the fact that you had been drinking on the night’. The case had been dropped, he said, due to lack of evidence.”
Lack of evidence? Or lack of sobriety? Since when were criminal charges dropped because the victim had been drinking?
“I had gone out, had a few drinks and so was not credible,” said Greenwood. “I had held the entitled conviction of a middle-class, white British woman that all victims of violent crime could expect access to justice. They can’t, it turns out — and particularly not if they have been drinking.”
And if it wasn’t enough that Greenwood had been cast as an unreliable witness, there was absolutely nothing she could do about it. In the U.K., victims have no legal rights, so she couldn’t fight for the suspect to be prosecuted.
Later this month, Keir Starmer, Labour MP for Holborn and St Pancras and former director of Public Prosecutions, will launch a Victim Support bill, which will be the first piece of governance around victim’s rights in the U.K. — if it becomes law.
The bill will set out a framework for victim’s services and a legally enforceable code for victims, including the right to question the CPS on a decision to drop a case.
“We will only see the cultural shift we need on victim’s rights when they are enshrined in a Victim’s Law,” Starmer wrote in The Huffington Post. “This would be a powerful break with the current piecemeal approach and help tackle one of the most fundamental problems in our criminal justice system: a lack of faith among victims that they will be supported, listened to and treated fairly.”