He cruised resorts in search of new victims

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ON WARM summer evenings Richard Baker would stroll the seafront at Southend-on-Sea in Essex, or Torremolinos, looking among the holiday crowds for women in short skirts. He preferred slim, young women with dark hair. But he was not there to admire; he wanted to find someone to terrorise, control and then rape.

Police believe the handsome young disc jockey has raped and assaulted dozens of women throughout the south of England and in Spain.

Of the 12 women that came forward to press charges against the 34-year- old, many have been unable to rebuild their lives. Some have given up their jobs, left their homes, and refuse to go out at night. One says she finds it impossible to think of herself as "anything but a rape victim".

Baker could still be stalking and assaulting victims if it had not been for advances in forensic science, a massive police operation which was aided by a lucky break, and the bravery of 12 women willing to face their tormentor in court.

The son of a Cornish farmer Baker joined the Merchant Navy but left after a few weeks. He later worked in clerical and administrative jobs. But as a disc jockey he got the perfect cover to fulfil his obsessions.

As well as working throughout the south of England with his mobile disco, Baker's ability to speak Spanish helped him get jobs abroad in holiday resorts such as Torremolinos, where he spent much of 1997 and 1998 working at the Torremolinos Beach Club.

Good looking, clean cut and intelligent, he was attractive to women. "He's a handsome man, who keeps himself fit by exercising in the gym, and looks younger than he is," said Chief Inspector Juan Antonio Blanco, at Torremolinos police station. "And in that milieu of discos and holiday nightlife, he had access to as many girls as he wanted."

But he was not content with these one night flings;he wanted to dominate and humiliate. Police later described him as a "control freak", and he admitted in court: "I wanted to be in control so that they would not resist me."

It was Essex police that first spotted a pattern to a series of sex attacks that had taken place in Southend-on-Sea, including the rape of a 15-year- old in a car park. The method of assault was almost always the same - Baker attacked his victim from behind, put an arm around her neck and threatened to kill her if she screamed or tried to run away.

Setting up Operation Monarch, they contacted other forces to find further cases. The Metropolitan Police and the Sussex force soon joined the operation after similar attacks in Brighton and London. They found that one man had raped or assaulted 12 women over an eight-month period in 1998. The breakthrough came with a tip off after publicity of the case on Crimewatch. Baker's brother, Kevin, 36, recognised a description of the attacker and telephoned the police.

Within hours, detectives from Operation Monarch set off for Cornwall to arrest the suspect, but were alerted that he was on his way to Heathrow airport to catch a flight to Spain. They arrested him in the early hours of 16 December at Heathrow bus station.

British police officers subsequently travelled to Spain where they discovered that Baker had been arrested twice last year after three young women complained to Torremolinos police that he had raped them after sedating them, almost certainly with the "date rape" drug Rohypnol.

In the first case, in June 1998, two young Swedish women told police that a handsome Englishman, "Ricardo", had invited them to a night out. They said he spiked their drinks with something that made them lose track of time, and eventually consciousness, until they woke up in a strange bed with Ricardo. Brought in and questioned, Baker said the women had consented to having sex with him, and denied drugging their drinks. Baker went before the judge, and was freed.

In the second incident, which took place the next month, a 17-year- old Swedish girl reported that she had been raped the night before by an Englishman who called himself Richard. She, too, remembered little of what had happened, but was taken to hospital for tests. But she was afraid to press charges, and did not contest Baker's claim that she too had consented to having sex with him. After a night in the cells, Baker once again went before the judge, and was freed. Police later found Rohypnol among Baker's possessions.

Seven of Baker's victims eventually attended his Old Bailey trial, sitting together in the public gallery and holding hands for comfort. Angie Scothern, a Detective Constable from Essex, who has helped counsel six of the victims, said: "One woman says she can't walk out in the dark. Most are fearful of hearing a step behind them at night because the attacks came from behind. One can't walk to the end of the street where she was attacked."

Yesterday was not Baker's first rape conviction; that came in 1986 after he and another man dragged a 19-year-old woman into the back of a van. Baker was jailed for six years for the offence in 1987.

Commenting on Baker's performance in court, one of the detectives in charge of the case said: "Not once has he said I'm sorry or shown any regret."