Police arrest Night Stalker suspect

19-year hunt is 'biggest case in history of the Metropolitan Police'

The man believed to be the Night Stalker, Britain's most notorious serial sex attacker, has been arrested during a raid by the Metropolitan Police.

The Night Stalker is thought to be responsible for at least 108 attacks on the elderly, including four rapes and 24 indecent assaults, during break-ins in South London over 19 years..

A 52-year-old man was arrested yesterday morning in south London – the area where most of the attacks took place.His arrest is described as "significant" and there were suggestions last night that the true number of attacks may be close to 200.

One senior detective described the case as "the biggest in the Met's history". At least one high-ranking officer is said to have personally checked the DNA database daily in the hope that someone arrested overnight on an unrelated offence provided a match. The arrest resulted from a targeted operation against the suspect.

The case of the Night Stalker has baffled detectives at Scotland Yard since 1990 despite police having a DNA sample for 12 years after compiling forensic evidence from at least 10 crime scenes. Analysis showed that both of his parents originally came from the Windward Islands in the Caribbean. Officers carried out 2,054 tests at a cost of £102,700 but have never found a match on the DNA database.

Despite the man not being on the DNA database, he may still have a criminal record. He could have committed an offence before the database was introduced in 1995.

Unusually, despite the nature of his offences and the clear danger to the public, the Met has preferred not to publicise new information or leads in recent months, because when they have done so previously, the attacks have stopped, making the man harder to catch. Instead, they increased manpower in the investigation, known as Operation Minstead and focused on the relatively small area of London where he committed his offences.

A team of 29 police officers and staff based at Lewisham police station drew up a list of 21,500 suspects and began asking men for voluntary DNA samples to eliminate them from the inquiry. Eight police officers also travelled to Caribbean islands including Trinidad, Tobago, St Lucia and St Vincent.

During burglaries the Night Stalker would wear a balaclava and shine a torch into his victims' faces after removing light bulbs or disconnecting the electricity. His victims were mostly women but are thought to have included 10 men.

The Night Stalker has eluded detectives despite facing a huge range of police tactics, from surveillance to the offer of a £40,000 reward. Because of his apparent ability to avoid detection, the police even considered the possibility that the suspect was a former police officer, or had knowledge of police systems.