Police seek to interview Montes over attacks in UK

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The Independent Online

Police in Wales want to interview the Spaniard convicted of the murder of the Cornish schoolgirl Caroline Dickinson about a spate of sex attacks committed while he was living in Britain in the 1990s.

Police in Wales want to interview the Spaniard convicted of the murder of the Cornish schoolgirl Caroline Dickinson about a spate of sex attacks committed while he was living in Britain in the 1990s.

Detectives from the Swansea area will soon make a formal request to their French counterparts to question Francisco Arce Montes as part of a review of unsolved sex attacks in Britain which coincided with a four-year period when he was living in London.

The developments came a day after the 54-year-old former waiter was sentenced to 30 years in prison for the rape and murder of Caroline, 13, in 1996.

Devon and Cornwall Police said yesterday that they would ask all British forces to re-examine their files of sexual assaults that remain unsolved from 1993 to 1996. It was then that the Spaniard had a flat in the Earls Court area of west London and was probably working elsewhere in the UK.

A spokesman for the Devon and Cornwall force said: "We will be reminding other forces of Montes's record and suggesting they might look at offences where the modus operandi is similar or the suspect is similar in appearance. We are happy to act as a conduit to contact the French authorities."

The inquiry by South Wales Police is focusing on at least three attacks, including the attempted rape of a 13-year-old Girl Guide on the Gower Peninsula, west of Swansea, in 1993. The victim escaped when holidaymakers heard her screams.

The attack, which is thought to have taken place at a time when Montes was working in a restaurant in the city, happened three years before he raped and strangled Caroline in a French youth hostel. She was on a school trip from Cornwall.

One police source said: "In view of what has emerged about the way Montes operated and certain parallels with offences we know he committed, we are very interested in talking to [him]. We will be liaising with the French authorities and Devon and Cornwall Police to see what can be done to progress our investigation."

Detectives are understood to have been struck at the resemblance between a photofit of the attacker on the Gower Peninsula and Montes when he was first arrested for the Dickinson murder in 2001.

They are also looking at an attack in 1992 when a man tried to rape a 15-year-old French girl at Oxwich Bay, a sandy beauty spot about seven miles from Swansea, and another assault when a man tried to drag a woman into dunes.

Neighbours of Montes at his flat in Earls Court, which he sub-let to young female travellers, said he would frequently disappear for weekends around Britain, driving foreign-registered cars.

Despite optimism that his conviction for the Dickinson murder could lead to a spate of fresh investigations, there was little sign of new inquiries elsewhere in Britain.

Scotland Yard said last night that it had ruled Montes out of involvement in any outstanding serious sexual assaults committed in London.

But fresh inquiries may also be made via Interpol from Spain, Germany, the Netherlands and Mexico, where Montes was known to have worked. He was convicted for rape in Germany in 1989.

It emerged yesterday that the international DNA database set up to trace border-hopping criminals such as Montes currently has just 6,000 entries.

John Dickinson, 48, Caroline's father, whose campaign spurred French police into the routine use of DNA testing, used the conviction of his daughter's killer to call for a global database of DNA to prevent other families suffering the same fate.

But Interpol, which announced last year that it was setting up a central database available to police in 181 countries to make DNA checks more efficient, said that it was still waiting for member nations to pool their records.

A spokeswoman for the international police agency, based in Lyon, said: "A database is only as good as the information it contains, and in order for it to be a fully effective tool for police around the world, it is essential that countries contribute their data."

Forensic samples are unlikely to play a key role in tracking down outstanding offences by Montes in Britain. His DNA profile has already been checked with the national database and no matches have so far been found.

Interpol insisted that its aim was to make rapid progress in adding records to its own DNA database, which contains entries in a simplified numerical form to allow the rapid identification of a potential suspect. Further laboratory tests can then be run to confirm the match.

But sources at the agency admitted that legal and ethical problems with sharing DNA data, as well as the costly logistics of setting up a database, were hampering progress.

One official said: "We are reliant on the contributions of each member state. While some, such as Britain, are advanced, others are slowing down. Progress has not been as rapid as hoped."