Special Report: ’He started to beat me hard. He told me I will break your face’

Anna Bubula came to Ireland to start a new life but claims she was raped and sexually assaulted while being held against her will. A Garda investigation has been launched into a failure to properly investigate the matter, writes Michael Clifford. Here is Anna's story.

Special Report: ’He started to beat me hard. He told me I will break your face’

The episode with the knife chilled Anna Bubula, but worse was to come. She was alone in the apartment with him, this man who had brought her to a distant and strange town under false pretences. The weekend had started out suspicious but steadily grew into something approaching terror. Then, at the height of it, he produced a knife.

“He tells me he wants to kill me and he took a knife from the kitchen and plays with it. He offers me the knife and asks me to kill him. The episode with the knife passed. I do not know what happened to the knife.”

Having dispensed with the weapon, the man resorted to his fists. “He started to beat me very hard. He punched me very hard in the face. Every time he hits me he says, ‘I will break your face. I will change you’. He tells me nobody can have you. ‘I kill you’.

He hit me several times and tells me this. His phone rang and I picked it up and I say, ‘please, please help me’. The next thing I remember was seeing a garda and an ambulance.”

Anna may have thought her nightmare was over, once she set eyes on representatives of the law and medical services. Unfortunately, that was not to be the case.

An investigation has recently been launched by the gardaí, and the HSE are following up a complaint to determine what exactly happened to Anna Bubula on that weekend and all that flowed from it.

STARTING OVER

Anna Babula (her maiden name) is a Polish national and mother of two adult children. By 2005, her marriage had broken down, and she emigrated to Ireland looking for a fresh start while her divorce was going through.

She arrived here in February that year, just 15 months before the incident at issue here. A family friend from home lived in Galway so she decided to settle in the city.

Her attempt to start out anew, at 38, did not go according to plan. Back in Poland, she had worked as an agricultural technician, but her very weak grasp of English meant opportunities were limited.

She worked at a few different casual jobs, and managed to make a number of good friends. However, she keenly felt the fallout from the divorce. Her mental state was fragile at times, a disposition noticed by her landlord.

He recommended that she attend Sister Consillo’s rehab centre in the city to get treatment for depression. She was admitted in mid-March 2006.

Her landlord, who was spoken to for this article but who wishes to remain anonymous, got involved in Anna’s case for the entirely altruistic motive of helping out somebody he regarded as highly vulnerable.

In the rehab centre, she encountered a man whom we will refer to as Canice, which is not his name. Canice is from the west of Ireland and was being treated for alcohol addiction.

The two are roughly the same age and became friendly. Canice told Anna he worked in a small business in his home town and there was plenty of work there. Anna is adamant that there was nothing romantic or sexual in their friendship. This would later become an issue.

After a three-week stay in the centre, Anna went home. By then Canice had also returned to his home town. Before he left the centre, Canice gave Anna his mother’s phone number, and conveyed the impression the business where he worked was owned by his family.

She rang Canice’s mother who told her to get the bus up and she would collect her at the nearest big town. As a stranger in a strange land, Anna hadn’t abandoned all caution. She left details of where she was going, and the contact numbers with both her landlord and her friends.

She travelled on Friday, April 21, 2006, and was met off the bus by Canice and his mother. They travelled to Canice’s apartment in the town. He told Anna he had work arranged for her and she would start on Monday. Soon after that, his mother left, and Canice brought Anna out for a few drinks.

ASSAULT

One of the photographs a friend of Anna Bubula took of her injuries.

After returning from the pub, Anna slept on a mattress on the floor of the second bedroom in the apartment that night. The next morning, she walked into the living room, and there was Canice, drinking cans of beer with another man, and the day barely under way.

“I say to Canice, ‘Why start your day drinking?’” she later told gardaí. “I went back to my room and started to pack my clothes. I was deciding to leave as I had a bad feeling about things. Canice told me he was sorry and would change.”

Soon after, they ate a meal, but Canice appeared to be quite drunk. “He became very angry, shouting and was crazy, pegging the food everywhere.

“I became terrified and told him I was going back to Galway and I started to collect my bag and phone. He took my belongings from me and started shouting and cursing.”

His friend told Anna that his own girlfriend was Polish and lived in the town. By now, Anna was nervous about where things were going. Canice’s friend told her she could go to stay with his girlfriend.

She spent Saturday night in this other woman’s house, but because Canice had taken her phone, she was unable to contact her friends.

“The next morning when I awoke, I was terrified to see Canice standing in the living room where I slept. He was saying sorry and I jumped out of the bed and left the house running in the direction of the hotel and I asked where was the bus stop.”

He followed her, and told her that everything was fine now and she could have her phone and belongings back. They returned to his apartment, where, some time later, he locked the door and refused to let her leave.

“I kept talking and shouting to him to open the door and he was like a crazy man and kept ignoring me,” she said.

“He started following me everywhere I went in the house including following me into the bathroom. He then caught and dragged me into a bedroom and started to assault me, striking me on the face with his fists and sexually assaulting me.”

Anna later gave a detailed account of the sexual assault, for which she has received extensive counselling in a rape crisis centre. Her ordeal persisted through the night into the next day, Monday.

During the course of the assault, Canice allegedly attempted to force her to drink alcohol.

“He got a bottle of vodka and forced the bottle into my mouth, which was hurting my mouth, jaws, and face. I kept trying to keep my mouth closed and he kept pushing the bottle and the vodka down my neck and I began getting sick and vomiting.

“The television was on at all times and early on Monday morning he allowed me to sit on the couch. I was terrified and shaking and felt numb. He started touching and kissing me again.

I kept pushing him away, crying, and asking him to let me go home. He said he was going to the shop outside to get bread for breakfast.”

Once he left, Anna saw her opportunity. She grabbed her bag and flung open the door. Canice was standing there and he pushed her back in, threw her on the floor, and assaulted her again. It was following this incident that the knife was produced. The knife was put to her throat.

“When I tried to push the knife from my neck, I cut my hand. I kept pushing him back. I was completely numb and believed this was the end of my life and thinking of my children and family.”

She ended up on the floor again, her assailant flailing away at her, when she heard his mobile phone ring nearby. She grabbed the phone. “I hit the buttons and shouted help, and said, ‘I’m going to be killed’. I don’t know what happened after that.”

RESCUE

Sligo General Hospital where Anna was taken by ambulance after first being treated at a local medical centre.

What is known is that she was brought to a local medical centre. A note on her attendance states: “Brought to my surgery by garda.” The note records: “Patient appears intoxicated and refuses to give me information.” Anna, it should be noted, had — and to a certain extent still has — relatively poor English. Any reference to how she might have presented must take into account what she had just been through.

Either way, the doctor felt her injuries were so severe that she should be transported by ambulance to Sligo General Hospital. The notes for the ambulance dispatch record that the ambulance arrived at 4.08pm and left with her seven minutes later.

The record states: “Patient involved in domestic dispute; severe swelling to left side of face, eye, nose, mouth. Unstable on feet. Patient very aggressive. Gardaí present. Unable to carry out any OBS (observation) due to patient’s condition.”

The records at Sligo General Hospital are of a similar nature. It’s recorded that Anna was suffering “facial injuries sustained from boyfriend”.

The note also includes: “Pt (patient) BIBA (brought in by ambulance) following a call from gardai. Pt and friend presented to GP following domestic assault.”

Her injuries are laid out. “Facial injuries large hartoma to L (left) eye, nasal swelling, upper and lower lips swollen, abdo (abdominal) pain, teeth and gum pain, multiple bruising to upper limbs. States boyfriend was ‘forced to drink vodka’.”

The last sentence was perhaps meant to convey that Anna stated she was “forced to drink vodka”, an allegation she has been completely consistent about since she first uttered it in a highly traumatised state.

A more detailed note taken at 5.30pm stated: “Assaulted by boyfriend… today pt was forced to drink alcohol, assaulted — hit in the face, head, then also raped.”

Later that evening, at 7.20pm, a medical note taken stated. “Pt reported to Dr has been sexually assaulted.”

There is no record of Anna having ever been examined for sexual assault, or the possibility that she had been subjected to such an assault being further investigated or recorded in the hospital.

Anna is perplexed that the man who assaulted her was repeatedly referred to as her “boyfriend”. While she remembers little, she is adamant that under no circumstances would she have ever referenced him as such. Also, it is entirely unclear who the “friend” recorded as being present was.

Anna was treated for her injuries in the hospital. By then, her friends and landlord back in Galway had become anxious about her welfare.

They hadn’t heard from her since the previous Thursday. The landlord phoned the Garda station in the town and was told of a “domestic incident” following which a Polish woman had been brought to Sligo.

The landlord and one of Anna’s friends drove to the hospital, where they encountered a shocking sight.

“She was in an awful state,” the landlord told the Irish Examiner. “I’d never seen any boxer coming out of a ring worse than her. She was as bad as I ever saw any face. I brought her back to Galway.”

Following her treatment for facial injuries in Sligo, Anna had to receive further treatment in Altnagelvin Hospital in Derry, and St James’s in Dublin. She has also received extensive and ongoing treatment in the Galway Rape Crisis centre.

INVESTIGATION

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Gardaí did not source an interpreter for Anna. Only on the eve of the final court date did her counsellor ensure one would be present.

The report published last November by the Garda Inspectorate into criminal investigations had particular mention for how sexual violence offences and domestic violence were treated.

The inspectorate found that some sexual assault cases were recatagorised as assaults and domestic violence incidents were recorded as “non crimes”.

This case was not examined by the inspectorate, but there are disturbing elements that reinforces the inspectorate’s view.

The medical records confirm a garda had attended the scene of the crime. It is unclear whether this officer was responsible for conveying the impression that what had occurred was a “domestic” incident.

One way or the other, it was obvious that Anna had been subjected to — at the very least — a very serious assault. There is no record of Canice having been arrested as a result or questioned.

No interpreter was sourced by the gardaí in the immediate aftermath of the incident, despite Anna quite obviously having limited English. No effort appears to have been made on behalf of the force to investigate a very serious assault.

There is no record of the recording of an alleged sexual assault, or “rape” in the hospital being conveyed to the gardaí for further investigation.

The whole incident may well have blown over if Anna — assisted by friends — hadn’t pursued it. A few days after the incident, one of her friends took photographs of her injuries, which are reproduced here. Her landlord phoned the Garda station in Canice’s home town, asking what was happening with regard to the assault.

He was told Anna would have to make a statement. Without that intervention by the landlord, it’s unlikely anything would have occurred in pursuit of justice.

The landlord then drove Anna to the town to report the incident and give a statement. The statement was taken by a uniformed garda with no assistance from either an interpreter or a detective.

The statement is written in broken English, and does not contain details like the sexual assault or any efforts to pour vodka into her mouth.

The landlord could not understand why an interpreter hadn’t been resourced. “Her English wasn’t great, you’d need to sit with her a while to have any idea what she was really saying,” he said.

After that, the criminal justice system took its course. On the day she gave the Garda statement, Anna also provided a note giving gardaí permission to seek her medical records in relation to the assault.

There was no attempt in the course of the investigation to obtain the records. Ten months later, in March 2007, a letter was dispatched from the investigating garda to the medical records department of University College Hospital in Galway seeking the records.

The garda wrote that “the director of public prosecutions has directed me to obtain the medical report”.

In other words, it was only after the file had been submitted to the DPP and reviewed in that office that there was any attempt to investigate the extent of the injuries suffered by the victim.

Eventually, Canice was charged with assault causing harm. He pleaded guilty. As a result, the district court judge accepted jurisdiction. If the plea had been “not guilty”, the case would most likely have been forwarded to the circuit court for hearing before a jury.

The case came up three times in the district court. On each occasion, Anna was contacted by phone the previous evening and told about the pending hearing. Each time, she had to make her own hasty arrangements to travel over 95km the following morning.

On the evening prior to the final court appearance in 2009, she was attending the Galway Rape Crisis Centre. When she explained what was happening, the counsellor ensured she would be accompanied by an interpreter the following day. This was the first time she was properly aware of what was going on in the courtroom.

The court was told that the victim had been compensated. In fact, just prior to that day’s proceedings, a man approached and placed an envelope in her lap. It contained €5,000 in cash. Canice gave evidence briefly in his own defence.

One issue that arose was evidence of a bite to Anna’s arm. When asked why he had bitten Anna, he allegedly replied that she had hit him with a saucepan. The judge imposed a non-custodial sentence.

Since then, Anna Bubula has been dogged by post-traumatic symptoms that are common among the victims of sexual or extreme violence. She has been admitted to psychiatric facilities on a number of occasions.

Her overriding wish is that she receives some form of justice for what she sees as a vicious physical and sexual assault that ruined her life, and largely went unanswered in the criminal justice system.

Among those working on her behalf is PJ McEvoy, the former general secretary and president of the Prison Officers Association.

“The extent of the brutal rape and assault on this lady is one of the worst cases I can recall in my period associated with the criminal justice system,” he said.

“All women who suffer such horrific crimes must have the full support of the State and the criminal justice system.”

In the course of investigating this case, a number of allegations surfaced purporting to offer reasons why there appeared to be a complete disregard for the investigation of an assault on a vulnerable, displaced woman by a native of the town where it occurred.

None of these allegations could be substantiated.

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