How 'rat trap' snared sex attacker
Thursday 24 March 2011
Delroy Grant was finally snared by an elaborate "rat trap" set up by detectives desperate for a breakthrough.
Senior officers were perplexed that 17 years of investigation, including a huge haul of forensic clues, had not identified the sex attacker.
Under the lead of Detective Chief Inspector Colin Sutton, who took over the case in 2009, they set up a huge undercover operation aimed at catching him red-handed.
Detectives commandeered New Scotland Yard's room 3000, a high-tech control centre normally used for high-risk terrorist and kidnap operations.
A police analyst sifted dozens of burglaries to identify an area of Shirley, south London, as the criminal's most popular hunting ground.
Experts set up hidden cameras and look-out posts as 70 officers, including surveillance specialists and territorial support group members, were drafted in.
One of the force's three helicopters was also employed to hover at high altitude overhead, using powerful infra-red cameras to see in the dark.
With the go-ahead from Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson, who was braced for a substantial bill, the trap was set on October 28, 2009.
Police focused on an area of about one square mile around Orchard Avenue, bordered to the south by the A232 Wickham Road.
On their first night, police discovered the Night Stalker struck three times, twice just to the north of their net and once to the south east, one street away.
The timing of each burglary meant the suspect must have used a vehicle and travelled down Orchard Avenue.
There was hardly any traffic on the road and investigators identified one vehicle as the one probably used by the Night Stalker.
A CCTV camera from a local business caught a shadowy outline identified by a specialist as a post-2005 model silver-grey Vauxhall Zafira.
Footage from a private CCTV camera close to one of the burglaries also showed the silhouette of a man parking a car in an adjacent road and walking to the house.
Over the next few days, as police were examining this flood of priceless information, the Night Stalker struck again in Herne Hill.
An elderly woman dialled 999 when she heard the side gate of her end-of-terrace home being forced open.
The emergency operator overheard the attacker confronting the victim in her bedroom and snatching the receiver from her hand.
As a patrol arrived at the house, officers saw Grant running off and chased him through back streets, gardens and alleyways.
It was one of several near misses. Police were also left frustrated after setting up hidden cameras around three cashpoints he used to steal his victims' money.
The resulting footage, from locations in Bromley, Dulwich and Honor Oak, only showed a shadowy figure with an anorak pulled tight around his face.
Detectives believe the Herne Hill narrow escape "spooked" Grant who did not commit another crime for two weeks, his longest period of non-offending since March.
Meanwhile officers examined the DVLA database, drew up a new list of suspects and asked colleagues to note down every post-2005 silver Zafira they saw.
It was later found that Grant would probably have been visited by police in early 2010 as his car was noted outside the Jehovah's Witness Kingdom Hall near his home.
On the night of Saturday November 14, one undercover officer became suspicious of a silver Zafira parked on a side-street in the Shirley "rat trap".
At about 12.30am, the officer watched a small black man run back to the car and drive off and began to follow him.
Other officers joined the stealthy pursuit and Grant was eventually pulled over in Witham Road, Penge, a short distance from Birkbeck railway station.
He gave a false name, but detectives from the Operation Minstead team quickly found evidence they had caught the Night Stalker.
A crowbar used to lever out double-glazed windows was found in the back of the car and a woolly hat in the glove box.
A dark blue anorak and distinctive fleece used by Grant to disguise himself while withdrawing cash using his victims' cards and details were also discovered.
Meanwhile, a police dog team traced Grant's scent back from where his car was parked to a nearby home where an attempt had been made to break in.
Grant was arrested and brought back to Lewisham police station where a DNA test sealed his fate within hours.
He was linked to 11 victims by his DNA, while distinctive marks left by the crowbar and other evidence would tie him to several more.
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