Nightstalker rape cases: Why STILL no charges?

PUBLISHED: 10:41 26 March 2009 | UPDATED: 16:26 25 August 2010

CAMPAIGNERS have called for an inquiry into a 17-year burglary-rape investigation following a police blunder that allowed a sex attacker free to prey on more women.

CAMPAIGNERS have called for an inquiry into a 17-year burglary-rape investigation following a police blunder that allowed a sex attacker free to prey on more women.

Pressure group Women Against Rape claim the Metropolitan Police 'deprioritise' and 'sabotage' rape cases and have called for an inquiry into why no charges have been brought in connection with the Operation Minstead investigation.

The burglar rapist - dubbed the Nightstalker - targets elderly women, and sometimes men, and is thought to have carried out more than 90 offences, including four rapes and 30 sexual assaults, since 1992.

He is thought to have offended in Croydon, Orpington, Bromley, Sidcup, Beckenham, Forest Hill, Dulwich and Brockley and is believed to have links to Brighton.

It is believed he last offended last June in West Wickham but is not thought to have carried out a sex attack.

Sally Freeman, of Women Against Rape, said "The Operation Minstead investigation has been going on for over 17 years with so many victims and it goes to show that rape is not being prioritised by the police.

"During rape cases in general we have found that they lose evidence, don't follow through on information or don't look for it. In Operation Minstead they have his DNA and victims have described him so why has nothing happened? Police shouldn't be blinkered or make assumptions in this investigation.

"If he was a murderer, he would have been caught by now."

The group, made up of women, rape victims or their relatives, blasted the police for their handling of the case against black cab rapist John Worboys, who was convicted on March 13 on 19 counts of sexual offences against scores of women.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) found that Plumstead police had arrested Worboys for attacking a 19-year-old student from Eltham on July 26, 2007, but he was released after he claimed the woman started hugging and kissing him.

Detectives at Plumstead police station closed the case in October 2007 claiming there was insufficient evidence to take it to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

It was not until February last year that he was arrested again but it is believed he went on to attack at least 34 more women.

Greenwich borough commander Chris Jarratt, from Bromley, was axed last Thursday after revelations of major blunders by officers at Plumstead police station.

Ms Freeman added: "The only way we will see real change is for those responsible at the top to be sacked.

"Ministers should put more pressure on the Met and press for results."

But politicians declined to be drawn on the issue.

Bromley and Chislehurst MP Bob Neill said: "We can only hope that he is caught soon. It is obviously troubling that it has gone on for so long.

"I do know the police have been actively trying to narrow down the evidence they have to find a suspect.

"But it is important to keep this case in the public eye, there is always a danger that something like this can go off the boil. It's very important to do that not only in case new evidence comes to light but it is very important that the public remain vigilant and look out for more vulnerable members of society."

Bexley and Bromley London Assembly member James Cleverly said: "Sometimes it is quite difficult to establish the progress on a long standing situation. With long term cases it becomes harder over time as witnesses memories are not what they were and it is not easy."

A Victim Support spokesperson said: "While we know that the performance of the criminal justice agencies is important to many victims, we're not qualified to comment on the priorities of the police. But, as a general point, even if this process is justified by lack of evidence, if victims feel their experience of crime is being dismissed by the very agencies that are meant to deal with the situation that risks adding insult to injury."

Malcolm Gilbert, Operations director at Family Matters, a charity that provides support for victims of rape during investigations by Kent Police, said: "A lot has been done to improve rape investigations and prosecutions but there is a lot more yet to be done.

"It is not like losing your mobile phone or having your car stolen, it is a unique violation of the human body which is paralleled by few other but the most serious of crimes.

"Rape produces a terrible feeling about the victim's own safety and their own bodies. Whilst the perpetrator is still at large, they never have any sense of relief knowing that he is still out there and could strike again."

Although the vast majority of the Nightstalker's victims have been women, police said they also include 10 elderly men, one of whom suffered a sexual attack.

The suspect is an employed black man, aged between 35 and 45, with genetic heritage from the Windward Islands in the Caribbean.

Police say the suspect could be living, visiting or working in Honor Oak or Forest Hill area.

A reward of £40,000 has been offered for information leading to the attacker's arrest and conviction.

A spokesman for the Metropolitan Police said: "We utterly refute the claim that the MPS does not take the investigation of rape seriously. Specifically with regard to the investigation known as Operation Minstead, we invite a representative of Women Against Rape to get in touch and we will arrange for her to come and visit the investigation's incident room at Lewisham.

"Operation Minstead is run by a full time team of experienced and highly committed detectives and support staff, led by a senior officer, Detective Superintendent Simon Morgan. For more than 10 years, the investigation has retained a high profile throughout the MPS and in the wider London community.

"Its officers are continually pushing the boundaries of what is available scientifically to help us pursue developments. As a result, we believe we have a reasonable profile of the sort of man we are looking for and even some of his life style traits.

"However, DNA samples taken from the scenes of crime do not currently match anything on databases available to us.

"We have made seven arrests but can only do so when evidence leads us to justify such action. None of those have resulted in charges.

"As is routine in the MPS, the investigation is regularly reviewed. There is currently a review under way by the MPS internal review group.

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