Beaten by Gaddafi’s nephew and intimidated by his thugs... so why was I treated like a criminal by British justice?By Elizabeth Sanderson
Last updated at 3:38 PM on 27th March 2011
The swaggering son of Gaddafi’s henchman hit Karen Etchebery so savagely he broke seven bones in her face – yet after a campaign of threats and Foreign Office pressure, his trial collapsed.Here she speaks bravely about the disturbing events that saw him free to return to Libya – and led her to a cell in handcuffs
Beaten: Karen Etchebery survived a vicious attack by Mohammed al-Sanussi, Colonel Gaddafi's nephew, in London
Mohammed al-Sanussi was charged, in 2006, with an attack on two Brazilian escort girls, Karen Etchebery and Patricia Bech, at his London home. This paper revealed last month that the ensuing trial collapsed amid pressure from the Foreign Office, which wrote to the Director of Public Prosecutions pointing out that Britain’s financial interests could be damaged if the case was pursued. Al-Sanussi’s father, Abdullah al-Sanussi, is Gaddafi’s brother-in-law and head of Libya’s intelligence services
At the time BP was negotiating a £15 billion contract to secure oil and gas rights in the country.
The judge ordered the jury to return ‘not guilty’ verdicts after Ms Etchebery withdrew her evidence. Now the 25-year-old has come forward to describe the reasons for her decision.
She tells, for the first time, of the appalling savagery of al-Sanussi’s attack and explains how she was forced to withdraw her allegations after months of sustained intimidation at the hands of Gaddafi’s henchmen.
When she turned to the British police for help, she claims they did little to support her, leaving her with no choice but to drop all charges, for fear that the Libyans would harm her or her family.
She says: ‘The attack was bad but what happened next was worse. I was terrified. I told the police the Libyans were terrorising me but they didn’t help. I didn’t feel safe.
‘I would have loved to put Mohammed in jail for what he did but would I be alive right now, would my family? If the case hadn’t collapsed, I believe something would have happened to me, for sure.’
Ms Etchebery and Ms Bech first met al-Sanussi, then a student, in April 2006 at the Lanesborough Hotel at Hyde Park Corner.
The two girls – childhood friends from the relatively poor city of Maringa in southern Brazil – had arrived in London four years earlier, when Ms Etchebery was just 17.
The youngest of four, she is the daughter of a mechanic and a housewife. She began getting into trouble as a teenager, so her mother suggested she move to live with her elder brother in London.
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‘Patricia is five years older than me,’ Ms Etchebery says: ‘We came here together, we’d known each other as children. We were working as cleaners when one night Patricia went out and came back with £800. She said she’d been out as an escort and I should try it.
‘First we worked for a woman called Bella. She wasn’t an agency but she had lots of Arabic clients. We didn’t have sex, just drinks, dinner.
‘Then we were on the books of the Bentley’s agency but we also had our own clients. We worked as a team and we worked well together. Once, at a party at The Dorchester, we left with £5,000 each and there was no sex. We would go to the hotels in Park Lane. We got lots of attention because we were two girls together. There were lots of Arabs, Indians, Greeks.’
'I would have loved to put Mohammed in jail for what he did but would I be alive right now, would my family?'So Ms Etchebery was no innocent by the time they met al-Sanussi, whom she knew only as the son of a wealthy Libyan. She says: ‘He had a sexual relationship with Patricia, not with me, although he would pay us both £1,000 a night to go to his home, a five-storey townhouse behind Harrods. We would play music and dance for him.
‘Most of the time even Patricia didn’t sleep with him, he was always drunk. He didn’t really talk to us, sometimes he wouldn’t even say hello. He would say a few words in English but mostly talk in Arabic to his friends. I think he just wanted us there as decoration.’
The girls saw al-Sanussi once or twice a month. On the night of the attack, November 17, 2006, Ms Etchebery felt ill and had wanted to stay at home. She says: ‘I didn’t want to go. I wasn’t very well but Patricia kept calling me, again and again, saying I needed to pick her up and go to Mohammed’s. In the end I agreed. We got there about 11pm and there was another guy there who he said was his cousin.
‘We had some drinks; Patricia was with Mohammed and I went downstairs to the kitchen with the cousin. He started touching me and I told him no, I didn’t want that. Another night I might have but I felt really sick and said, “Take the money back if that’s what it’s for.” I went upstairs and told Patricia I wanted to leave. She said she would leave too.
‘Mohammed stood in the doorway and said, “You’re not leaving unless you give me the money back.” We gave him the money, no problem. Then Patricia went to the door and he picked her up and threw her. I saw her head hitting the floor, it bounced three times like a football.
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‘I went to help her. As I bent down to lift up her head, I turned and I just remember hearing the words, “And you.” The next thing I knew I woke up on the other side of the room with blood everywhere. I don’t know how long I was out for, I just remember waking up and using my hands against the wall to try and get up. Eventually, I said to Patricia, “Let’s go,” but she couldn’t move. She was on the floor on all fours. I picked her up with one hand and held my hand over my face with the other. There was so much blood coming from my mouth I couldn’t breathe.
'The police told me later they finally found him at home at 10pm. When they went inside he was having a party. My blood was still all over the walls'‘I dragged us to the door but as we tried to leave he wanted to hit me some more. It was only his cousin holding him back that stopped him.’
Ms Etchebery managed to call their driver, a fellow Brazilian who often took them to jobs, and he drove them to Chelsea and Westminster Hospital. She says: ‘We got there about 2am. I had seven bones broken in my face and nearly lost the sight in my left eye. The roof of my mouth was split in half.
‘I spent two months in hospital on morphine. It took that long for my face to heal enough to have surgery. My cheek was hanging off the bones, I couldn’t eat. I didn’t have any mirrors as for months I was too scared to look at myself.’
Ms Bech, 30, did not want to press charges. Nor would she contact the police on Ms Etchebery’s behalf. ‘In the end, I got another friend to call them,’ says Ms Etchebery.
‘They wouldn’t take my whole statement because I was on such heavy medication, but they asked if I wanted to press charges. I said, “Yes, of course, I want to see him in jail.”
‘When they went to his house he wasn’t there. The police told me later they finally found him at home at 10pm. When they went inside he was having a party. My blood was still all over the walls.’
Connected: Al-Sanussi's father is the brother-in-law of Colonel Gaddafi, above, and one of his most trusted lieutenants
She says: ‘If I went anywhere, people would take pictures, they’d brush past me in the street and say, “Go home”. If I crossed the road a Range Rover would come towards me and pretend to try and run me over. Different people would call and say, “It would be very easy to finish you off. Another accident could happen to you very easily.”
‘There were lots of different men. They always gave their names although I’m sure they weren’t their real ones. One time they got a girl called Maria, who could speak Portuguese, to talk to me.
‘Patricia took me out one night to try and mend our friendship which had broken down. Someone called the next day and said, “I could have poisoned your drink last night.”
‘They knew things even I didn’t know. They went to my auntie’s house in Brazil. Even I didn’t know her address. They went to my cousin’s as well. They went to the spa where my brother works in London. It was so stressful, I started taking antidepressants.
‘One time a man said, “You know you’re dealing with terrorist people.” It made sense, there was something not normal there. They were too powerful.’
By then, the police had explained who al-Sanussi’s father was. One of Gaddafi’s most trusted lieutenants, he is believed to have orchestrated the killing of protesters in Benghazi last month. And in June 1998, a French court sentenced him in his absence to life in prison for his role in the 1989 bombing of a passenger plane over Niger. All 156 passengers and 15 crew members died.
Ruthless: Abdul al-Sanussi is believed to have been behind attacks on protesters in Benghazi last month
She says: ‘I told the police they were following me. I told them all the time, especially the policewoman who looked after my case. I said I was terrified, I was being terrorised. She just said, “Yes, we know, Karen, we’re doing our best. We’re trying to help as much as we can.” But they weren’t helping me at all. They were less and less helpful as time went on.’
Despite the threats, the trial began at Blackfriars Crown Court on July 16, 2007. The case was scheduled to run for three weeks but after ten days Karen withdrew her evidence.
She says: ‘They dealt with Patricia’s evidence first. That took about a week and then they moved on to me. I told them everything that had happened but then, on about the third day, I got a call and someone said, “I’m outside your mother’s house. Do you want to collapse the case?” I called the policewoman handling my case and said, “Please help me. They’re in front of my mother’s house.” She said, “Tell your family to call the local police. I cannot do anything from here.”
‘I said, “OK, thank you very much. I want to collapse the case, I’m not going to be there tomorrow morning.” The intimidation was too much and they weren’t helping me. The policewoman went mad and said I could go to jail. I said I still wasn’t going and she told me to be at Belgravia police station the next day.’
'For people like him, hurting a girl is like killing a fly'Ms Etchebery arrived at the station the following morning but admits: ‘By that stage I was taking pills to sleep. I took four before I went to the station so by the time I got there, I was gone. I said I wasn’t going to court, I was shouting.
‘Four policemen came towards me and I said, “I’m not going.” They pushed me to the floor, put handcuffs on me and pulled my head back. It was as if I was the criminal. Then they drove me to court. I waited in the car for about an hour and then they said I was to go to jail for wasting their time. The case was finished. They never charged me but they took me to Belgravia and I spent about 14 hours in the cell.’
Following the collapse of the trial, the lead prosecution barrister, Selva Ramasamy, drafted a report in which he said: ‘I understand that the Libyan Embassy has been monitoring the case... I had a number of discussions with defence counsel in which it was made clear that the Libyans had threatened to take a number of extreme steps in relation to BP’s negotiation in Libya and possible severing of diplomatic relations.’
It is also believed Gaddafi raised the matter of al-Sanussi’s trial with Tony Blair when he visited Tripoli in June 2007 – his final foreign trip as Prime Minister. Ms Etchebery says: ‘I cannot be sure Tony Blair was involved but I can be sure the British police were not helpful. I did not feel protected by them.’
And because she did not feel protected, the Libyans eventually got what they wanted when the trial collapsed. Ms Etchebery says: ‘The thing I can’t forget is the way Mohammed looked at me in court. He was sure he would win the case. He was almost laughing.
‘For people like him, hurting a girl is like killing a fly. They think they can do anything they want to anyone they want. They feel they’re unstoppable and in the end, they were weren’t they? That’s what makes me so angry.’
Scotland Yard last night declined to comment.
Cosy: It is believed that Colonel Gaddafi raised the subject of al-Sanussi's trial with former Prime Minister Tony Blair
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1370245/Karen-Etchebery-beaten-Gaddafis-nephew-intimidated-thugs.html#ixzz1HpCmpRS2