My nine year battle to get my sex attacker deportedWhen Gabrielle was half-strangled by a would-be rapist, judges put his 'human rights' before hers
Last updated at 12:16 AM on 8th March 2012
Brave: Gabrielle Browne waived her anonymity so she could fight for justice
There is a certain irony in the fact that Gabrielle Browne was training for a marathon on the day she was attacked in a London park.
It is just as well that this 46-year-old mother-of-two was blessed with the psyche of the long-distance runner. Her dogged determination to reach the finishing line — which, in this particular race, was called ‘justice’ — has served her well over the past nine years.
Had she been more of a quitter, Gabrielle dreads to think where she might be today. More importantly, she dreads to think where her attacker, a foreign criminal called Mohamed Kendeh, might be.
‘My street Your street’ she asks, not unreasonably. ‘This was always about just stopping him, and keeping other women safe.’
For it was not until last month — almost a decade since he grabbed Gabrielle by the throat in March 2003, pinned her down and tried to rape her — that Kendeh was finally deported to his native Sierra Leone.
But would this have happened without the efforts of Gabrielle, who has put much of her own life (and recovery) on hold to press for his deportation Possibly not.
Gabrielle was not the first woman Kendeh had attacked. Nor would she be the last.
After coming to Britain with his family when he was six, Kendeh committed at least 11 sexual assaults. He also has convictions for burglary, arson and robbery, which — given that he is still only 25 — is an extraordinary record.
He is not, in short, the type of man any woman wants to think of walking free on the streets. In truth, Gabrielle never considered that he would be allowed to walk free once he had served his time for his crimes. Since he is not, and never has been, a British citizen, Gabrielle reasoned, the authorities would surely seek his deportation at the earliest opportunity.
‘When I found out about this man’s immigration status, and it became clear how dangerous he was, I had this idea that all the agencies — police, courts, border control — would swing into action, and that his deportation would be a given.
‘Let’s just say I was naive in the extreme. There have been times in all of this that I’ve felt I was the only one who was committed to getting this man deported.’
Not only was there no real urgency to deport Kendeh, for a while it seemed to Gabrielle that the authorities were more concerned about protecting his rights than the rights of his potential victims.
In 2007, even when the Home Office tried to deport him, a judge declared that he should be allowed to stay in Britain despite his crimes, citing Article 8 of the Human Rights Act and his right to a ‘private and family life’.
At that point, Gabrielle took the remarkable step of waiving her anonymity to speak out publicly about her case, and devoted the subsequent few years to attending court hearings, lobbying Government agencies and poring over documents, in the hope of finding a way through the legal quagmire.
'There have been times in all of this that I've felt I was the only one who was committed to getting this man deported'
It has made her, she confesses, a ‘reluctant expert’ in the criminal justice system.
Gabrielle’s ordeal began on a crisp spring morning in 2003. It was 11am and she was midway through her regular run in Burgess Park, near her home in Camberwell, South London, when a hooded figure appeared in front of her, forcing her to stop.
‘I was immediately anxious, but when he asked me the time, I told him. I was just keen to get on my way as quickly as possible. But I had barely taken one step when he grabbed me. I remember his arm going around my neck.
‘The next thing I knew, I was pinned against a wall, with him having managed to get my shorts and pants off. I don’t remember specifically thinking: “I am going to die”. When it happens, there isn’t time. I do remember realising my arms were free and hitting out at him. There was this desperate feeling that I had to fight back. And it worked. I thank God that it worked. Eventually, he ran off.’
Gabrielle dialled 999 and within ten minutes, officers had apprehended her attacker. ‘He hadn’t even got out of the park. I suppose that, with his history, they pretty much knew who they were after.’
It would be some time before she learned how dangerous Kendeh actually was. Although he was just 16 at the time, he had already been deeply involved in South London’s gang culture and was a seasoned criminal.
He’d spent time in a young offenders’ institution, and been convicted of six previous sexual assaults.
Serial offender: Gabrielle's attacker Mohammed Kendeh
Her account of the nine years since is harrowing and nothing short of shameful.
‘At every point, it was like wading through treacle. Even getting a conviction wasn’t easy. The case wasn’t pursued when I failed to make a positive identification — despite the fact there was forensic evidence which linked him to the scene.
‘But forensics didn’t come back for six months because processing the evidence wasn’t a priority.
‘Had I died in the attack, though, it would have been back in a matter of weeks — possibly making sure that he couldn’t go on to attack another woman, which he duly did, while he was out on bail for my attack.
‘By the time there was evidence to secure a conviction, he was serving time for another crime, a robbery which he had committed in June 2003, so I was asked if I wanted to bother bringing a case. I found that extraordinary. In the event, he went to court for the attack on me and the other woman at the same time.’
Unravelling how many times Kendeh has been to court — some for criminal proceedings, some at the immigration court — is no mean feat.
‘Keeping tabs on it all was like a second job, and there was precious little help. It was an incredibly isolating experience,’ says Gabrielle, who works in IT.
In February 2005, Kendeh was finally found guilty of the attack on Gabrielle, and sentenced to four years in a young offenders’ institution. By now, it was clear that this was a very dangerous individual, and in August 2006, the first Home Office moves to deport him were made — but thwarted when an immigration judge ruled he could not be removed.
‘I wasn’t aware the first immigration hearing had taken place, even though I had the right to know. All along, I ended up arguing about what my rights were.’
Only 15 per cent of serious sexual offences are reported to the police, says the charity Rape Crisis
In 2009, when Kendeh was released on licence for his crime against her, Gabrielle asked to see an up-to-date picture of him so she would recognise him if he came near her — which he was banned from doing.
‘I was told it “wouldn’t be helpful for his rehabilitation”. What about my rehabilitation What about my safety I feared for my children — this was a man who had led a gang in the area we were living. The joke is that while I was appealing that decision, he was arrested again anyway. The whole thing was shambolic.’
And it truly rankles that Kendeh went on to commit crime after crime. Shockingly, she says, Kendeh wasn’t finally deported because he attacked all those women, but because of a robbery in 2009.
In the torturous legal process, what tends to be forgotten is how the victim’s life is put on hold.
Gabrielle is the first to admit she hasn’t begun to truly face what she went through that day. ‘I wake up in the night sometimes unable to breathe. I have flashbacks. I’ve had to move house. I’m afraid of being on my own — yet anxious in a crowd. I still run, but it isn’t the same. Running used to make me feel safe and empowered. No more.
‘Obviously, it affects relationships. There are times when I am with my husband that I absolutely do not want to suddenly relive what happened. Yet I cannot stop it.’
What happens now for Gabrielle Part of her wants to put all her files away, yet part of her wants to continue campaigning.
‘It’s an incredibly difficult one, because people like Immigration Minister Damian Green have acknowledged that changes are still needed,’ she says.
Yet it is not a fight she ever wanted to wage in the first place.
‘It should never have been my fight,’ she points out. ‘I became an active victim. But what about the victims who want to be passive, and just get on with their lives Who fights for their rights’