November 8, 2013
Lucy Walsh woke up in a dimly lit, grubby room she didn’t recognise. She quickly realised, to her horror, that she was naked, and that she was not alone.
A man was on top of her, pinning her to the floor, while another raped her. There were others there, too, talking in a foreign language, and laughing when she screamed in terror and pain. The 24-year-old was subjected to a horrific two-hour attack, as the men took it in turns to rape her.
It’s a story that will strike horror into the hearts of parents and young women everywhere: a young local government officer whose only ‘crime’ was to find herself momentarily alone in a town centre in the early hours.
But the repercussions for Lucy went far beyond the physical injuries she sustained that night. It would destroy her faith in her country and its legal system, which she’d always trusted to protect her, but which seemed to her to favour the rights of her attackers above hers.
Her ordeal was described by a judge as ‘among the worst to have come before this court in recent years’ – yet in a sick irony, one of her attackers was granted British citizenship as he awaited trial.
It’s probably not surprising to hear that Lucy has moved almost 4,000 miles away to Canada, and says ‘I don’t know if I can ever come back to Britain’.
That evening, in June 2011, she’d enjoyed a fun night with friends at a club in Preston, Lancashire. When she decided to call it a night, and walked alone the short distance to a taxi rank outside, no one was concerned. It was something Lucy, and thousands of young women, do without thinking every weekend.
‘The town was well-lit and lots of people were milling around, so I felt safe,’ she says.
Lucy’s confidence was tragically misplaced, however, since two Kurdish men – Rezgar Nouri, 27, and Mohammed Ibrahim, 23 (a third – Araz Latif Najmaden, 21 – is still wanted in connection with the attack) had seen her in the nightclub and followed her out, and were caught by the club’s CCTV cameras.
What happened next is a blur. Though there is no evidence that Lucy was drugged, all she remembers is waking up, terrified, and being raped.
‘I kept blacking out, falling in and out of consciousness. The men weren’t speaking English, and they just laughed at me when I cried out.
‘Another came in then and dragged me roughly by my wrists into another room. I thanked him, thinking in my confusion that he was rescuing me, but he just laughed and then raped me, too.
‘It was surreal, and I was convinced I was going to die. I kept thinking of my parents, my brother and sister, and wondered how they would cope.’
Eventually one of the men threw Lucy into a bathroom where, bizarrely, she found her clothes neatly folded with her shoes placed on top of them.
‘I was shaking terribly but I pulled them on, then the man called Nouri yanked my hair, pulled me down some stairs and threw me out onto the street.’
Desperate to get help and disorientated, Lucy realised she must have left her phone in the room where she had been raped.
‘I can’t explain why I went back upstairs to find my phone,’ she admits. But, in her confusion and distress, she did. The door was unlocked and she crept in, spotting her phone in the bed sheets, but as she went to pick it up, Nouri grabbed her and raped her again, before shoving her back out on the street.
‘When I tried to stand up I was crippled by such agonising pain that I collapsed,’ Lucy recalls.
‘I recognised where I was – round the corner from the train station – and started crawling towards it on my hands and knees. By then I was hysterical.’
At Preston Royal Hospital, doctors found she had suffered such severe internal injuries that it was four days before they could fully examine her.
‘I couldn’t stand up, and I was covered from head to foot in bruises,’ she says.
It was at 7am that two police officers knocked on the door of the five-bedroom farmhouse in the Lancashire countryside where Lucy lived with her parents, Iain and Kay, to break the horrific news about their daughter.
Kay, 50, a company director, recalls: ‘I remember standing there in my dressing gown as one of the officers explained that Lucy had been sexually assaulted.
‘When he said she was in hospital, I felt sick. I knew something terribly serious had happened.’
Businessman Iain, also 50, stayed at home with the police, while Kay drove to the hospital.
‘To see Lucy curled up in pain, and shuffling along like a 90-year-old woman, was heartbreaking,’ Kay recalls.