In court, the carer accused of being London's notorious 'Night Stalker'

Mark Hughes investigates a case that has baffled the Metropolitan Police for almost two decades
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Dressed in a police-issue white tracksuit and flanked by two female custody officers, Delroy Easton Grant stood in the dock at Greenwich magistrates' court yesterday morning. The unassuming 52-year-old spoke only to confirm his name and address during the brief hearing.

But Delroy Grant is the man police believe is the "Night Stalker" who carried out a series of rapes and indecent assaults on pensioners, dating back nearly 20 years. He is charged with having committed 22 offences – five rapes, six indecent assaults and 11 burglaries – since 1992. Prosecutors say this list is "likely" to increase.

Many of his alleged crimes took place in the summer months and 12 of them are said to have occurred in a four-month spell between May and August in 1999. All the alleged offences took place in south London.

Mr Grant was arrested in the early hours of Sunday morning by detectives from the Metropolitan Police's Operation Minstead as he returned to his car in Shirley, near Croydon, south London. Yesterday he was remanded in police custody and ordered to appear at the same court on Thursday. Police have until then to bring further charges.

Police officers guarded Mr Grant's home in Brockley, south-east London, while forensic teams searched the new-build terraced house.

Neighbours said he was a friendly man who devoted his time to caring for his wife Jennifer, a Jehovah's Witness, who developed multiple sclerosis at the age of 42. Friends said she had been a classroom assistant, helping children with learning disabilities at the local school, Turnham primary, but had had to give that up when she became ill four or five years ago. She has since been confined to a wheelchair.

Mr Grant could often be seen pushing his wife in a wheelchair. According to neighbours, the couple had lived in their house since the estate was built 19 years ago. They live with their two sons. Neighbours said they also have twin daughters who have left home and are studying at university. Mr Grant, who neighbours said is from the Caribbean, is also said to have three sons from a previous marriage.

One neighbour, a 58-year-old man who did not want to be named, said: "He was a genuinely nice person. Everyone knows everyone around here. He was a quiet bloke, but if he knew you he would stop and have a chat. If we had a barbecue on the front he would come out for a drink. And he would pop into the British Legion every now and then to have a drink or play dominoes. He used to ask me to take him fishing. He looked after his wife but he did a bit of painting and decorating on the side."

Another neighbour, who would only give his name as Raymond, said the two men had been friends for 17 years: "We cooked together, drank together, ate together. He was a calm and cool character. He took care of his wife and we respected him for that. Before his wife got sick he used to be a chippy, a carpenter; he fitted kitchens and things like that."

The Grants' home is at the end of a row of terraced houses, each with a garage on the ground floor. Neighbours said Mr Grant had converted his garage into a bedroom for his wife. Outside the garage door hangs a rudimentary punchbag, which local teenagers said was filled with cement. On the decking is a set of weights and a radio-controlled car. A dartboard hangs on the back wall.

On the trees overhanging the gardens are several plastic bottles, riddled with holes. Mr Grant's neighbours said he owned an air rifle and used the bottles for target practice. One of them said: "He asked me to get him some proper targets. I've got them in my house, but I didn't get the chance to give them to him."

At the front of the house is a railway track. Across a footbridge, a few streets away, is a house where Mr Grant's wife, Jennifer, used to meet with fellow Jehovah's Witnesses. Women there said that Mrs Grant had been a member of the religion for about 20 years, before her illness.

They said that initially Mr Grant would only attend the house, or the nearby Kingdom Hall on David's Road, to drop off or collect his wife, but that he later became a Jehovah's Witness too.

However, his devotion was cut short by his wife's illness and he never went out knocking on doors with her. Because of her illness the pair stopped attending the Kingdom Hall and became "disassociated" – the term members of the religion use for Witnesses who have lapsed. Mrs Grant was later persuaded to return, but Mr Grant did not join her.

One fellow Jehovah's Witness, who knew the couple, said: "He got involved and came to a few meetings, but he was never very enthusiastic. She is a black lady and was very tall, slim and glamorous until her illness struck. After her illness she lost the use of her legs. She used to tell everyone 'look after your legs'."

Mr Grant is the seventh person arrested in Operation Minstead. The previous six have all been released without charge. The operation was set up to find the man known as the "Night Stalker", a sexual predator who targeted pensioners, male and female, breaking into their homes and subjecting them to ordeals lasting up to four hours. During the burglaries he would wear a balaclava and shine a torch into his victims' faces after removing lightbulbs or disconnecting the electricity.

The incidents took place in south and south-east London. Striking up to nine times a week, the attacker has eluded police for 17 years despite a huge manhunt and detectives offering a £40,000 reward. The officers have had a DNA sample taken from a number of crime scenes for 12 years but have found no match on the national database. One high-ranking Met officer is known to have checked the DNA database daily in the hope that someone arrested overnight on an unrelated offence might have provided a match.

Officers at Scotland Yard were baffled by his ability to avoid detection for so long, and at one point worked on the theory that the attacker was a former policeman or had some intimate knowledge of the police computer system.

The "Night Stalker" is believed to have attacked at least 108 times, although more recent assaults have not been publicised. According to reports, the total number of attacks may be closer to 200.