Predators can take many shapes and forms. Rarely we think of someone that sleeps under the same roof as you. Someone you feel at ease with so that you don’t lock your bedroom door at night. A person who cooks you dinner and shares culture about their home country with you: this, unfortunately, was my big mistake.
It was a glorious London summer. The kind that makes you fall in love with the city again after many long grey months. I had just moved into a new house share out in East London. My childhood friend Lucy made plans to stay for a weekend. We decided to go to a dance music festival on the outskirts of South London on Saturday.
As we were leaving the house for the festival. One housemate Ali passed us in the corridor. I introduced Ali to Lucy, and he invited us to a party that night, I politely declined. Ali was working as a chef and often cooked delicious food for everyone. I really enjoyed our chats where he told me about life in his home country of Uzbekistan.
At the festival, we had what we thought of as the serendipity to bump into a group of guys that we had met backpacking in Cambodia. Lucy had had a fling with one of them named Matt. Lucy and Matt were getting along great, and it felt like we were all backpacking again.
The guys lived in the part of London that we were in and invited us to a house party afterwards. We agreed to go as it wasn’t too late. We arrived at the house party. Matt for unknown reasons started to ignore Lucy. Disappointed we decided to call an Uber to my house at around midnight.
We arrived back at my house, and Miguel, my housemate, was waiting for us with a bottle of wine. The three of us sat in my kitchen, but Lucy was already falling asleep, her head resting heavily on her hand. I decided it was time for Lucy to call it a night.
“Lucy I’m taking you to bed”
She agreed. I took her to my room but then realised I had locked the door. I ran back downstairs to get my key from my bag. I returned and opened the door, leaving the key in the keyhole.
Lucy fell asleep instantly. I went back twice, once to get her a glass of water and another to get a small bottle of gin from my room. Lucy didn’t stir even when I switched on the light. Downstairs, Miguel and I were drinking when Ali came into the kitchen to do his laundry.
“Come drink with us!” I said.
“Where’s your friend?” He asked.
“She’s upstairs. I put her to bed as she was drunk.”
“Bring her downstairs to drink with us?” He persisted.
“No, she’s upset about a guy she’s staying asleep,” I said sternly.
Miguel and I continued to drink. After around 10 minutes, we noticed Ali had left the room and hadn’t returned. Strange we both thought, as he seemed to really want to drink with us.
Ali opened the kitchen door:
“Your friend is being sick”
I went upstairs to check on her. My bedroom door was wide open with the light off. I saw a glowing rim around the door from the bathroom door opposite. Lucy must be inside, I thought.
“Lucy open the door?”
I turned the handle, the door was locked.
“Lucy?” I asked again this time more concerned.
Eventually, the door opened. Lucy was on the floor, sobbing. I couldn’t get her to tell me what was wrong.
“Had Matt called her?” I thought.
Finally, she uttered the words: “I woke up, and there was someone in bed with me on top of me.”
I knew that I needed to call the police and tell Miguel what happened as I couldn’t anticipate how Ali may react. I went downstairs to the kitchen. Miguel and Ali were talking. I asked for a private word with Miguel.
I asked Lucy to tell Miguel what she had just said to me. Ali sensed something was amiss as he started to climb the stairs towards where we were talking.
Lucy was on the bathroom floor, quivering in a ball. I blocked Ali from getting close to her on the landing. Ali was a strong and athletic guy, he could have easily out powered me, but I was determined for him not to get close to my friend.
He repeatedly tried to get past me.
I managed to block him and get him downstairs close to the front door. At this point, I was furious. Miguel tried to intervene so I wouldn’t get hurt.
I could hear Lucy sobbing upstairs.
Ali wouldn’t leave so I told him I was calling the police. He looked down at me emotionless. He was neither apologetic nor angry.
He only had one persistent request.
“I want to speak to your friend” he said coldly.
Angered, I scratched his face. His hand reached to his cheek, and after seeing blood, he turned towards the front door and left into the night.
My heart in my throat, I called 999 and reported a sexual assault. Then I went upstairs to comfort my friend.
Lucy was then able to tell us in more detail about what had happened.
She awoke briefly to feel someone in bed with her, thinking it was me getting into bed she went back to sleep. She then felt what she thought was me getting closer. “Nikola is trying to hug me,” she thought.
*Lucy has always been a heavy sleeper.
She woke again, this time feeling a heavy weight on top of her. Alarm bells started to go off as she smelled a strange male scent in the pitch-black dark; she tried to push the body away. A tongue entered her throat, and hands reached to pull her pyjama bottoms down.
Lucy used all her energy to roll out of bed, staggering to the door. She grasped in the dark for the handle of the bedroom door. It was locked. Panicking, she felt the key in the keyhole and turned it. The door opened. She dived into the bathroom ahead of her and locked the door.
The rest we know is Ali returning downstairs to announce Lucy was sick.
The police arrived. Took statements and Lucy’s pyjamas and my bedcovers for evidence and asked us to go to a clinic the next day.
Ali never went back to his job. The police had an arrest warrant out in his name. After a few months, he turned himself in at a police station.
Ali fled the country and didn’t attend his hearing.
The police informed us that the UK and Uzbekistan do not have a relationship where he could extradited. We thought that we would never hear about Ali again.
One year later I receive a phone call from Lucy:
We both couldn’t believe it. At this point, I was living in Brazil and had put this nightmare behind me. Lucy had moved on with her life too.
Ali has returned to the UK. We still don’t know precisely why and he was arrested at the airport in London. He was held in prison, but he needed to have a trial. When the date of the case was announced, my tickets were booked back to England by the witness protection team.
In court. I was told to simply not to lie and not to get angry. The barrister said that if the defendant’s barrister finds out that I have lied about one small thing, it will jeopardise my whole statement, even if there is something mentioned that makes my character questionable, to just be honest.
I took to the stand. I felt as if I was on a pedestal with light beaming on me. I swore on a bible, to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, just like in the films.
The barrister started the cross-examination by asking me about the alcohol that I had consumed throughout the day. After each drink, he totalled up the points of my alcohol consumption. Turning to the jury to tell them that at 11 am, I was no longer legal to drive, and by the mid-afternoon, I had consumed the government guidelines for a week’s worth of alcohol.
He alluded that I was a drunk and focused heavily on Lucy and Matt’s relationship as if Lucy was devastated by Matt not giving her attention at the party. I told him flatly that it was not the case.
When I came to the part where I took Lucy to bed, the barrister stopped me, turned theatrically to the jury and said: now I will tell you what really happened.
His story is as follows: Lucy, Miguel, Ali and I were drinking together. It wasn’t only Miguel, Lucy and I in the kitchen. He continued to tell the judge and jury that I had a jealous nature. I was used to getting all the attention in the house. When confronted with Lucy getting attention from Ali, in a jealous fury, I sent her to bed.
I was stunned. Not only was I painted as a drunk party goer. I was now a jealous, drunk, party goer. He even added that Miguel was defending my story as he was in love with me.
The barrister continued telling the jury that Ali was listening to Lucy pouring her heart out about Matt, comforting her in the process.
How further it was from the truth made me feel sick.
He even said that I ‘ordered’ Lucy to go to bed and ‘dragged’ her away from Ali that she gave Ali a ‘longing’ look over her shoulder. This look indicated to Ali that she wasn’t prepared for their conversation to end.
After I returned downstairs, Ali then went up to check on her. He knocked on my bedroom door and ‘asked’ if he could enter. Lucy agreed, and he sat on the corner of my bed. Lucy appeared to be still ‘upset’.
She sat up with the covers around her, and he asked: “Could I kiss you?”
Lucy agreed, and he moved towards her. She embraced him, and they started to kiss. Suddenly, Lucy panicked and pushed him away. He didn’t understand what was going on. After all, he had asked her permission to kiss her. She leapt up and ran to the bathroom.
Confused, he thought she must have been sick and went downstairs to inform me that she wasn’t well, Lucy then ashamed of what I might think then made up a story that he tried to have sex with her. When Ali attempted to deny this and wanted to speak to her directly, angrily I turned on him like a predatory monster and attacked him.
An alarming thought crossed my mind: What if I would be charged for protecting my friend?
Lucy’s barrister was swift. He focused very much on us being in the house and my trips to and from downstairs. Both times he confirmed to the jury Lucy was solidly asleep when I entered. When talking about how I found Lucy distraught on the floor of my bathroom, my emotions became too much, and I cried.
When I left, I felt so light. There was nothing more that I could say or do. It was over.
A few days later, we found out that Ali was charged with six years in prison with the days that he had already spent in jail taken into consideration. The locked door was what had sealed it for the jury. It completely contradicted the story Ali’s barrister had painted of Lucy inviting him into my room.
Ali had never even had a conversation with Lucy. After my experience, I can only imagine the stories barristers allude to and invent if the victim knows their perpetrator.
What still astonishes the lengths a barrister will go to manipulate human emotions. Lucy and I were put into such negative gendered stereotypes. Lucy was portrayed as desperate for love and male attention. I was the ‘princess’ who always got my way and was jealous of my friends. Both couldn’t be further from the truth.
But the ultimate lesson that I learned is that it is very important to make sure that the people you live with are to be trusted.