I live in the Beeston area and was close to my sister, Cheryl. Cheryl had three children, the youngest is Sally. We haven’t had much luck as a family. When Sally was just 15, her mum died. The family rallied round and Sally remained close to family members, especially her gran (my mother.) Sally has learning difficulties and eventually her social worker felt she’d be better off moving into supported accommodation. She was given a place in Harehills aged 16 where she was happy.

I suppose I should explain a little more about Sally. At the time she was attacked, in summer 2015, she was 17 and still living in Harehills. Her learning difficulties meant that she was rather child-like, more like a young 12 year old. The aim was to help build her independence. She had a bus pass and loved to travel back to Holbeck & Beeston to meet friends and family. Sally’s learning difficulties were immediately obvious to anyone who met her.

On the day she was attacked she had gone to visit a friend in Holbeck as she’d done independently many times before. Sally didn’t have a mobile phone, so she just set out on the trip hoping her friend would be in and enjoying the ride. She liked going out and having little day trips with her free disabled bus pass. Her friend wasn’t at home so Sally went back to the bus stop near City Evangelical Church and waited for the bus home. It was 2pm on a weekday afternoon. While she was waiting a man pulled his car up to the bus stop and started making small talk with her. He offered to give her a lift into Leeds instead of having to wait for the bus. Sally refused his offer but he became insistent that he wanted to give her a lift. As she would not accept he eventually got out of the car and forced her into it.

The man drove Sally to a house on Stratford Street in Beeston, not far away. He dragged her from the car into the house and raped her. After a while he went to the toilet and she ran for her life. She escaped and ran to a house opposite. The neighbours immediately tried to help and took her in. The police were called and the man was arrested. DNA evidence was obtained and the police seemed really confident they would secure a conviction. Due to the attack being so serious he wasn’t let out on bail. He stayed in prison on remand right up to the court date which I think was in October 2015.

“despite her mental age being 12, Sally was forced to testify in court”

My mother told the family that the attack had been so humiliating and degrading for Sally that it would be in Sally’s best interests if her own family were not told the full details. As a result we were asked not to even attend court. My mother went alone with Sally to court without the rest of the family.

Up to this point the proceedings had gone as well as could be expected… but a sad twist of fate meant that the court date fell after Sally’s 18th birthday. The defence forced her to appear and testify in open court, even though she had the mental age of a child. She was torn to shreds. The defence barrister argued that Sally was a prostitute and had been “waiting for business” at the bus stop. She really struggled to answer the aggressive questioning and just fell to pieces.

Even so, the police were shocked when the defendant was found not guilty. All he had to do was claim she was a prostitute and it was apparently believable because she was standing in an area where street prostitution occurs on a daily basis.

What you need to understand about the “managed approach for prostitution” is that it covers a small area of industrial Holbeck but the women & punters spread out way beyond the boundaries of the “zone.” As a result street prostitution is evident over a much larger area, including residential streets. This is why residents are campaigning for the zone to be closed.

We can’t protect the women of Holbeck and Beeston. When women are attacked the men involved can simply claim “I thought she was a prostitute!” and get away with it. Holbeck is the only area in Leeds where men can abduct and rape local women and get away with it. (Read Alice’s story here)

After the trial Sally completely lost her way in life. She got into an abusive relationship with a man and got pregnant. She desperately wanted to keep her baby but social services recommended he be adopted as Sally wasn’t mentally capable of raising a child alone. We haven’t seen her for a while now… she’s lost touch with her family.

I keep thinking about the defence barrister. To him it was just a job: keep his client out of jail no matter what. He was willing to put a rapist back onto the streets and condemn poor Sally to a life of hell. My family have lost confidence in the justice system and those who were supposed to protect us. Sally’s case is well known locally and I’ve been very vocal about it. I’m still so angry.

The residents need help and we need a solution. I don’t know what the solution is but I believe that if we prosecuted sex buyers and cleared the streets of kerb crawlers men would not be able to say “I thought she was a prostitute” in future.

Interview by Paula, Save Our Eyes Committee. This article is strictly copyright and may not be reproduced without permission.