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British backpackers in false robbery claim appeal conviction

September 27th, 2009
 British nationals Shanti Andrews (R) and Rebecca Turner  Photo: AFP

British nationals Shanti Andrews (R) and Rebecca Turner Photo: AFP

Shanti Andrews and Rebecca Turner, the two British law graduates who falsely claimed they were robbed in Brazil, have lodged an appeal against their conviction.

Eduardo Tonini, one of the lawyers for the women, said it may take days or weeks before a judge hears their appeal in Rio de Janeiro.

The pair, both 23, pleaded guilty to attempted insurance fraud but had two further charges added, including falsely reporting a crime and “misrepresenting a crime”.

Mr Tonini said the appeal has been lodged on the basis the women falsely reported a crime but did not go as far as attempting to commit insurance fraud and misrepresenting an offence.

“When they were arrested, the charge of falsely communicating a crime was committed, but for them to have tried to commit insurance fraud would have required them to take a crime report to an insurance company, which did not happen,” said Mr Tonini.

“We are just confused about why they were charged with the third offence of misrepresenting a crime. We say the charges went two steps too far and should have stopped at the point of falsely communicating a crime.”

Miss Andrews, from Frant, near Tunbridge Wells, Kent, and Miss Turner, from Woolton Hill, near Newbury, Berkshire, were sentenced to 16 months in prison but a judge converted the punishment to a community service penalty.

The two University of Sussex graduates remain in an apartment in Rio, with their lawyer unable to predict when they might be able to return to Britain.

Speaking from Rio, Mr Tonini said: “The appeal has been lodged but we don’t know when it will be judged. It will probably take some days or maybe weeks, we just don’t know yet.

“The appeal process in Brazil takes longer when the defendants are free. If a defendant is in prison, an appeal can take place much sooner but as they are free they are not considered a priority.”

The women were arrested on July 26 after telling police that belongings totalling about £1,000 were stolen during a bus journey while they were on a nine-month world tour.

Miss Andrews told a court hearing in Rio that she and Miss Turner had a laptop stolen during a tourist excursion to the south of the country, according to reports.

But the student admitted adding items that had not been stolen to the list, including a purse, a mobile phone and a digital camera, it was reported.

The court also heard from police who dealt with the students, with one officer saying his suspicions were raised by their quietness when they reported the losses.

Following their arrests late last month, they were taken into custody, but freed on bail a week later after their lawyer appealed against a judge’s initial decision to refuse them bail.

After they were held by police, Miss Andrews’s mother, Simone Headley, said the two friends were traumatised by their ordeal and that it had been a ”misunderstanding” at the end of their trip.

If their appeal fails, the women could face having to carry out community service in a hospital or an institution for the poor, Mr Tonini said.

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