Two British law graduates who spent six days in a notorious Rio jail after being accused of attempted fraud were due to go on trial in Brazil today.
Former Sussex University students Shanti Andrews and Rebecca Turner, both 23, were arrested last month after telling police they had been robbed during a bus journey to Rio de Janeiro and had lost £1,000 worth of property. The British tourists were on the last leg of a nine-month round-the-world trip.
Suspicious that their passports were not stolen, police searched the women’s youth hostel in Copacabana and claim to have found the supposedly stolen belongings. Among the items the pair reported missing was an iPod and a digital camera. Police accuse the pair of attempted insurance fraud.
Renato Tonini, one of the women’s lawyers, had told the Daily Telegraph that his clients planned to plead guilty “because we feel that is the best thing to do under the circumstances”.
But todayanother of their lawyers denied his clients would plead guilty.
Eduardo Tonini said the defence would argue that charges of fraud represented an “impossible crime” as the type of robbery reported to police would not have been covered by the women’s insurance policy.
Tonini said he expected his clients to address the court through an interpreter but was not sure what they would say.
“If they are convicted we are hoping for a small sentence. The maximum is one to five years but we don’t envisage them getting anything over a year,” he said, adding that under Brazilian law the punishment could be lowered due to the alleged offence being attempted fraud.
The lawyer said he expected a quick decision from the judge.
“We hope that they will be absolved,” Tonini said, adding that it was unclear whether Andrews and Turner would leave Brazil immediately if they were acquitted.
Following their arrest the pair were handcuffed to each other and sent to the Polinter women’s prison in Mesquita, on the outskirts of Rio. They shared a cell with dozens of Brazilian women including murder suspects. Pastor Antonio Ferreira, an evangelical preacher who visited the rundown prison while they were there, said the British pair had declined to take part in an impromptu service in the cell.
After five nights at Polinter the pair were transferred to the Bangu prison complex – a sprawling 24-jail detention centre housing some of Rio’s most dangerous criminals – but were released almost immediately on bail.
In an interview following her release Andrews said entering the prison was like passing through the “gates of hell”. Several of the prisons in Bangu are divided up into separate wings in order to isolate warring members of different drug gang factions.
Rio’s tourist police say the “luggage trick”, an insurance scam by which tourists pretend to have been robbed in order to claim from their insurers, is on the rise.
Following the British pair’s arrest last month, Fernando de Souza, head of Rio’s tourist police, said fake crime reports were “massacring” crime statistics in the seaside city, giving Rio a bad name.
One day before the British students were due to go on trial another British tourist was arrested in Rio after being caught in Rocinha, one of the city’s biggest slums, allegedly in possession of cocaine and marijuana. The tourist, named by local press as 30-year-old Amy Jucam, was later released.