Man 'sexually assaulted pensioners'

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The Independent Online

A rapist who preyed on elderly women launched "gratuitous" and violent sexual attacks on disabled pensioners in their own homes, a court heard today.

Michael Roberts, 45, is alleged to have carefully selected vulnerable victims who lived alone, in the knowledge he would not be disturbed.

In three cases he launched "horrific" assaults, leaving some of the women lying battered and bleeding on the floor, prosecutors said.

Opening the case at London's Southwark Crown Court, Allison Hunter warned jurors the evidence they would hear was likely to fill them with "revulsion".

The court was told that Roberts, whose substantial criminal record was "no secret", began his string of attacks on older women as a 22-year-old.

While one of his alleged victims had "advanced arthritis", another was "partially deaf", Miss Hunter said.

Outlining the factors which linked the offences, she said: "They were all single vulnerable victims who had difficulty walking, they all lived alone in ground floor apartments."

The crimes were connected by the "extent of gratuitous violence that was employed", she said, and by the fact that each attack was committed at night.

"The knowledge demonstrated by the person who committed these offences, the state of loneliness and confidence that no-one would be returning to the premises, demonstrated that this attacker clearly knew their every move," she told the court.

While Roberts allegedly pounced on one of his victims as she was getting ready for bed, another was letting her cat out when he crept into her home.

Two of the women had never had such a sexual experience prior to their ordeals and one later told police: "He tried all sorts of things I've not known of and I've read in books about them, but I've never done things like that even with my husband."

The court heard shocking details about the nature of the attacks, which all took place yards from addresses where Roberts had been living at the time they were committed.

Meanwhile jurors heard how women were left with appalling injuries which required hospital treatment.

One woman spent days drifting in and out of consciousness after she was found in a bloody state lying on the floor two days after the attack.

She had a 10cm laceration above her right eyebrow and her flat had been "turned upside down".

Another victim was so badly injured that her jaw was fractured in three places, the court was told.

Roberts, of no fixed abode, is accused of buggery, three counts of rape, two counts of indecent assault, two counts of GBH with intent, and four counts of burglary.

His four alleged victims - aged between 57 and 83 at the time of the attacks - are not being named following a request from the judge.

The charges relate to attacks carried out in the late 1980s and 1990s in the south London area and were brought following a cold case review in 2005.

The court heard the initial attacks drew widespread publicity and as time went on, the perpetrator became more "forensically aware".

He began to wipe household items he had touched during the violent robberies, sometimes using a T-shirt to remove evidence.

Taking increasing measures to cover his tracks, he was able to escape justice for a number of years, the jury heard.

But detectives spotted similarities between his alleged crimes, all committed between December 1988 and March 1990.

It soon became "abundantly clear" they were being carried our by the same person, Miss Hunter said.

Though officers recovered - and stored - DNA following each burglary, there was at the time no system in existence through which to run comparisons and identify the culprit.

It was not until a comprehensive database had been established that investigators were able to establish a link between DNA collected from some of the crime scenes and that of Roberts, which had been entered on the system.

In 2005, partial matches were made and Roberts was arrested.

In one instance, an examination of semen recovered following a rape revealed the chances of the assailant not being Roberts was one in 79,000.

The defendant, dressed in a black shirt, listened intently as jurors were told he had a series of previous convictions for burglary and assault.

Drawing parallels between these crimes, Miss Hunter told jurors that Roberts cut the telephone wires during a robbery in 2005 - echoing one alleged attack in 1990 during which he was said to have ripped the phone wire from the socket on the wall.

The court heard Roberts had also been violent towards his two partners, Julie Warner and Leanne Ward.

Jurors were told that Ms Warner would later appear as a witness during the trial.

Following his final alleged burglary - during which prosecutors say he caused grievous bodily harm with intent - Roberts returned to Ms Warner and confessed he had been the assailant, the court was told.

Responding to news reports which inaccurately suggested a sexual attack had taken place on that occasion, he allegedly told his then girlfriend: "I did that but I didn't rape her".

In statements read to the court, Roberts' alleged victims described their fear and horror as they struggled desperately to fight off the intruder.

A 77-year-old, attacked in September 1989, said she had been "too frightened to scream" as he ordered her to undress, shaking his fists in an "aggressive manner".

"I was trying to go slowly, I was terrified I was too frightened to call for help," she said.

"He was sweating and seemed very nervous."

Despite telling him she was a virgin and that what he was about to do would "hurt me", he continued his "disgusting" and "awful" attack, she said.

And though at one point he instructed her to kneel down, she was unable to do so, owing to her severe arthritis.

He left the flat - only a few yards from that of Roberts' first alleged victim - more than two hours later, at around 12.15am. Some coins and £5 in cash were taken from her purse.

A second woman, aged 66 when she was attacked in October 1989, recalled being grabbed from behind as she stood at the sink in her bathroom, wearing only a blue cotton nightdress, a dressing-gown and her underwear.

A hand was clamped over her nose and mouth which left her struggling to breath, she said, before the man began a painful and prolonged sexual assault.

"I started heaving," she said. "I thought I would be sick. I was terrified, I was shaking and crying and kept telling him to go but all he would say was that he wouldn't go until he was satisfied."

The woman, who was partially deaf, said her attacker had attempted to bend her legs but was unable to because she had no right knee cap.

Before leaving her home - with two purses containing £30 in cash, an Abbey National card and some lucky charms - he attempted to wipe away any trace of the three-hour assault.

"He seemed very calm and cool and collected all the time," she said.

The trial was adjourned until tomorrow.