At last: Rapist Wendell Baker finally found guilty of 1997 attack after police bungles

Changes to ‘double jeopardy’ law permitted a second trial

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The Independent Online

A rapist was finally convicted today after a series of police and prosecution blunders allowed him to evade justice for 15 years following his merciless attack on a pensioner inside her own home.

Wendell Baker, 56, tied his elderly victim's hands together before he raped her and stuffed her inside a small cupboard where she remained for some 15 hours until the alarm was raised.

Baker's DNA was found at the scene of the attack at the east London home of Hazel Backwell, 66, but a legal mix-up over the use of his sample meant that the case against him was thrown out - and then the case files were lost when a second attempt was made to put him on trial.

The unemployed builder was finally taken to court after a change in the law and police won a court order in 2010 to retrieve the original papers from his defence team.

Baker - who had sacked several defence teams and claimed he had been fitted up by police - showed no emotion after a jury of six men and six women found him guilty at the Old Bailey after only an hour's deliberation. The jury heard that there was a one-in-a-billion chance that he was not her attacker.

He will be sentenced on Friday when members of Ms Backwell's family plan to attend court and the trial judge made clear he could face a life sentence. The pensioner died in 2002, five years after the attack, a virtual recluse in a warden-assisted flat having failed to recover from the trauma of the attack.

"Baker is free while I'm too scared to get on a bus alone," she said in an interview for Take a Break magazine the year before she died after waiving her anonymity.  "I used to enjoy letter-writing and knitting. Now I can't concentrate on anything. I also suffer from depression.

"Sometimes in the middle of the night, it feels as if my attacker has come back to haunt me. I sit bolt upright. But then I calm myself and realise that no one is there."

Police said yesterday that they had apologised to her family for the loss of the case papers and said that systems, and legislation, had changed since the early days of the DNA database.

Detective Chief Inspector Christopher Burgess, head of the Specialist Crime Review Group, said: "I'm absolutely delighted to see this result today and to see justice achieved.

"Sadly Hazel passed away in 2002 and it is deeply regrettable that she is unable to see justice being served today."

Baker, a repeat criminal with a history of violence, was identified as the likely attacker just months after the 1997 attack after samples from the scene matched his profile on the national DNA database.

However, the case against him was thrown out by Judge Alan Hitching in 1999 because the match was tested seven months after he was arrested for an unconnected burglary. He was acquitted of the burglary and under the law at the time, the judge ruled that the sample should have been thrown way because he had not been convicted.

The decision was later overturned by the Law Lords and the case resulted in a change in the law in 2003 to allow the details of all those arrested - and not necessarily charged - to be added to the database. The database now holds about seven million matches, according to the latest figures.

However, the case could only be restarted after the 800-year legal principle that nobody could be tried for the same time twice for the same crime was curtailed in 2005. It emerged that the case papers had been lost following an investigation by a BBC documentary team.

Baker was finally taken to court after police won a court order in 2010 to secure the original papers from his own defence team to conduct the case and resulted in today's conviction.

In a statement issued by police, Ms Backwell's family said: "Hazel never got over her ordeal and the family believe she died with a very sad and broken heart. After the rape and attack her life was never to be the same again. This led to the last few years of her life being very lonely and sad and very afraid.

"The family of Hazel Backwell are now very grateful that after fifteen years the police and CPS have been able to bring this case to a satisfactory conclusion. On behalf of Hazel Backwell the family are very pleased that justice has now been done but it is sad our mum is not here to witness the outcome."