Sara Ibrahim says that since the day her little sister Layla was sent to prison, her family has been faced with a simple choice: "Do we give up and just get on with our lives, or do we clear her name? And we've decided if it takes the rest of our lives, that's what we'll do – we'll clear her name."
It was a couple of weeks after she reported being attacked in the early hours of a cold January morning in 2009 that Layla Ibrahim, then 21, noticed a change in the attitude of the police. Yes, the police had documented the injuries to the back of her head and breasts, the black eye, the bleeding from her vagina. They had listened closely as she described the two strangers who attacked her, how the main perpetrator had worn a Nike hoodie, how she thought she had temporarily lost consciousness after being knocked to the ground, how she had felt a "thud" in her vagina but had no clear recollection of what had happened.
The police had seemed sympathetic as she explained how she tried to fend off her attackers with a pair of blunt scissors, and how the second assailant grabbed hold of them and started cutting her hair. Layla told them how eventually she had made her way home, running and bawling, almost feral with fear. The case quickly became high profile, as the local newspaper reported that the police had set up an incident room staffed by 30-40 officers and described it as "one of the city's biggest manhunts".
But a couple of weeks later it was as if the police were investigating an entirely different case, one in which the suspect was Layla herself. The police suggested she had acted in a strange manner when they first went to see her – crying one minute, laughing the next; that she had been aggressive. They talked about inconsistencies in her evidence.
At first Layla thought it understandable – of course, the police wanted to clarify what she had told them – but when they kept questioning her story, she became unnerved. She'd told them the batteries were flat on her mobile phone, but they seemed to think it odd that it wasn't working. And they told her the forensics suggested there was no soil on her clothing from the grass where she said she had been attacked.
"That's when I said I didn't want to answer any more questions without a solicitor," she writes in a letter from prison. "They asked why I wanted a solicitor and I said, 'Because I don't feel like I'm the victim.'"
It wasn't Layla who first heard the news her attack was no longer under investigation. Instead, the police contacted her mother at the school in Carlisle where she works as a senior teaching assistant to tell her they suspected Layla of fabricating her story and inflicting the injuries on herself....read more