09:14, December 06 251 0 theguardian.com

2019-12-06 09:14:05
Judge dismisses torture charges against Charles Taylor's ex-wife

Agnes Taylor, the ex-wife of the jailed former Liberian president Charles Taylor, is to be freed from prison after an Old Bailey judge dismissed a series of torture charges against her.

The prosecution, which related to offences allegedly committed during the west African state’s civil war in 1990, had been repeatedly delayed following several years of legal argument that eventually reached the UK’s supreme court.

Taylor, 54, from Dagenham, east London, had been working as a senior lecturer for Coventry University. She was charged in 2017 and denied all wrongdoing, but had been held in Bronzefield women’s prison awaiting trial, which had been due to begin in January next year.

Because they are deemed to be so serious, charges of torture – like war crimes – can be tried in UK courts under universal jurisdiction, wherever any offences are said to have occurred.

Taylor, wearing a green jumper and pearl necklace, appeared at the Old Bailey on Friday via video link from Bronzefield prison to hear Mr Justice Sweeney dismiss all the charges against her. The prosecution indicated it would not appeal.

The Old Bailey had previously heard one count related to the alleged torture of a pastor’s wife by tying her up and her witnessing the shooting of her two children.

A further three of the seven torture charges related to “severe pain or suffering” allegedly inflicted on a 13-year-old boy. A conspiracy to torture charge related to allegations of rapes by National Patriotic Front of Liberia forces in a village.

She had been accused of committing the crimes while serving as a public official or acting in an official capacity.

Charles Taylor was Liberia’s president from 1997 to 2003. He is serving a 50-year sentence in a British prison after being convicted in 2012 at an international tribunal in The Hague of aiding and abetting war crimes in Sierra Leone. Up to 250,000 people are believed to have been killed during the conflict in west Africa, partially over “blood diamonds”, between 1989 and 2003.

The former president has appealed to the UN-backed tribunal to be allowed to serve his sentence in Africa. Taylor has been held in Frankland prison, near Durham.

Responding to the collapse of the trial, Charlie Loudon, the international legal adviser at the charity Redress, which supports victims of conflicts abroad, said: “This is a difficult result, principally for the victims of the alleged crimes, who will be denied the chance to have the allegations tested at a trial.

“In terms of the broader legal consequences, the supreme court has made clear that members of other armed groups that exercise sufficient control, such as Isis and the Taliban, can be prosecuted for torture under UK law. And similar alleged crimes that have occurred more recently than this case, anytime since 1991, if proven could also be prosecuted as war crimes.

“The priority is that the UK continues to invest in prosecuting cases like this. The British public does not want suspected torturers and war criminals walking on its streets. And for many victims across the world, their only hope for justice is through a British court.”