Torture charges against the ex-wife of former Liberian president Charles Taylor have been dismissed at the Old Bailey.
Agnes Reeves-Taylor, 54, was charged in 2017 over a string of offences – some involving children – during the West African country’s civil war.
The university lecturer, from Dagenham in east London, denied wrongdoing and was due to stand trial in January.
But after a technical appeal, judge Mr Justice Sweeney dismissed all charges.
Ms Reeves-Taylor was due to face a trial for torture and conspiracy to torture relating to events alleged to have taken place in 1990, during Liberia’s bloody civil war.
Up to 250,000 people are believed to have been killed during civil conflict between 1989 and 2003.
Ms Reeves-Taylor’s ex-husband was Liberia’s president from 1997 until 2003 and is currently serving a life sentence for war crimes in Sierra Leone.
However, Mr Justice Sweeney ruled that the case against Taylor’s former wife could no longer continue.
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This was, he said, because of a lack of evidence that the Taylor regime had governmental control over the areas where Ms Taylor’s alleged crimes happened.
The unusual ruling was not a finding that she was not guilty – only that the case could no longer continue to a verdict.
This was a key test for conviction for torture in UK law – and it means Ms Reeves-Taylor must be released from remand in prison.
What was Reeves-Taylor accused of?
The eight allegations Dr Reeves-Taylor faced concerned events in 1990 as the civil war raged across Liberia.
- The charges included conspiracy to commit torture by allegedly facilitating the rape of captive women by soldiers in Charles Taylor’s forces (National Patriotic Front of Liberia)
- It was further alleged that three of the torture allegations related to inflicting “severe pain or suffering”, including assaults on a 13-year-old boy.
- The Old Bailey had also heard that one allegation of torture related to a “pastor’s wife” who had resisted being raped by one of Charles Taylor’s commanders. Mr Justice Sweeney said the evidence of that allegation was that Ms Reeves-Taylor “ordered that the woman be tied [in a manner that caused pain amounting to torture]… The defendant then shot and killed the woman’s two young children, saying ‘See if you refuse an order this will happen’.”
She had denied she had been involved in any crimes.
In his ruling, Mr Justice Sweeney said: “I have asked myself in relation to each count whether there is sufficient evidence taken at its reasonable height upon which a jury could properly conclude that at the time and location of each offence, the NPFL [Charles Taylor’s forces] was exercising governmental function in the relevant area.
“In my view the answer in each instance is clearly in the negative.”
Ms Reeves-Taylor appeared in a video link from Bronzefield women’s prison in Surrey, when Mr Sweeney made his ruling.
She has been living in the UK since 1998. She was granted asylum but has been refused leave to remain by the Home Office.
War crimes investigators at the Metropolitan Police began investigating the business lecturer in 2014 after receiving allegations from investigators in West Africa.
Detectives arrested and charged her in June 2017.
Since then she has fought to have the case dropped – and her lawyers have previously told the court that she had no official position in Charles Taylor’s regime.
Ms Reeves-Taylor’s future in the UK is now uncertain.
While she is legally resident having claimed asylum, her application to settle permanently was refused under a Home Office rule that there were serious reasons to consider that she had, amongst other things, committed a crime against peace, a war crime, or a crime against humanity.
Her appeal against that decision remains outstanding.