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 \UK Guardian has reported.According to the Guardian on Friday, 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.
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A further three of the eight 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 intervened in the Supreme Court proceedings, 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.”
Handing down his ruling, which was not read in court during the 10-minute hearing, the judge said Taylor could not be charged with torture as a crime against humanity or a war crime because the alleged offences took place in 1990 – before the relevant sections of the International Criminal Court Act were introduced in 1991.
Taylor left Liberia in 1992 and divorced her husband in 1996, before the end of the civil war. She has not left the UK since 2001, the court previously heard.
Prosecutors argued that she was acting in a de facto official capacity on behalf of armed group the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), said to have been formed by Charles Taylor and responsible for attacks on President Samuel Doe during the civil war.
In her defence case statement following her arrest in 2017, Ms Taylor said that at no time did she act in an official capacity for the NPFL and disputed that the NPFL was the de facto governmental authority in the relevant areas at the relevant times.Ms Taylor is said to have had no contact with the former dictator following his conviction for aiding and abetting the commission of war crimes, for which he was sentenced to 50 years in jail.
Ms Taylor applied for indefinite leave to remain in the UK in 2013, which was turned down in 2016 on the basis that there were concerns she may have committed a war crime.An immigration judge will now be asked to rule on her immigration status, meaning she could be allowed to continue living in the UK where she has family, including two sisters and a jazz musician brother.
A CPS spokesperson said: “This has been a landmark case, involving complex issues of law which were addressed for the first time by the Supreme Court, the highest court in the UK. New boundaries have been established to define who can be considered as acting in an ‘official capacity’ in the context of torture allegations.“The Supreme Court refined the interpretation of the law and in light of their judgment, the trial judge granted Agnes Taylor’s application to dismiss the case against her. We will give careful consideration to that ruling.”