Scotland Yard sends written apologies after guilty verdict on chef who assaulted 71 women

A specially trained police unit spent seven years trying and failing to catch the serial sex attacker. A new team of Met officers solved the case in three days

One of Britain's most prolific sex attackers could have been caught years earlier if it was not for a series of errors by police officers who continually missed chances to catch him.

Kirk Reid is believed to have sexually assaulted at least 71 women in seven years. But he was allowed to continue unhindered by police officers, supposedly specially trained in catching sex offenders, even though they had his name, DNA and car registration.

The 44-year-old, a chef at Camberwell College in south London, first attacked in 2001 and was not arrested until 2008 even though he became known to Wandsworth's specialist Sapphire team in 2004. It was not until January 2008, when the Metropolitan Police's serious crime team took over the investigation, that Reid was caught. In that four-year period, Reid attacked 20 women.

The team of officers that eventually arrested Reid, led by Detective Inspector Justin Davies, took just three days to solve a case that had eluded detectives at the Wandsworth Sapphire team for seven years.

The case is the second high-profile sex crime investigation that has been bungled by the Met's Sapphire units – teams of officers trained in dealing with sexual offences. Earlier this month, John Worboys, a black cab driver who is believed to have assaulted 85 women, was convicted. That investigation too was hindered by police incompetence.

Yesterday Reid, a football referee from Mitcham, south London, was convicted of 26 sexual offences, but the revelation that he went unchecked for four years has prompted Scotland Yard to make a public apology. Written apologies have already been sent to the 20 women who were attacked after Reid became known to police.

Following yesterday's conviction at Kingston Crown Court, Commander Mark Simmons said: "The standard of investigation was not what we as an organisation, or the victims, should have expected. Reid should have been arrested sooner and I, on behalf of the Metropolitan Police Service, and as head of Sapphire, am sorry those women who were subsequently attacked by him have been caused unnecessary suffering."

He also referred the case to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. It is usually rare for the police to report themselves to the IPCC without a third party complaint but, after the Worboys case, it is the second time in a month that Cmdr Simmons has had to take such action.

Cmdr Simmons said: "I am conscious of the potential impact that these cases will have on public confidence in terms of the willingness of people who experience sexual assault to come to us. Am I concerned about how this is going to appear to people? Yes, I am concerned. I am really concerned. My concern is that victims will read into this and think there is no point in coming to us and I do not want them to think that."

Deborah Glass, from the IPCC, added: "The fact that Reid was identified as a suspect in 2004 and yet went on to sexually assault more women before he was arrested in 2008 is a real cause for concern. The public will understandably ask if some of these attacks could have been prevented and, indeed, if the police took the victims as seriously as they should."

Reid would stalk his victims late at night as they walked home in the Balham, Clapham and Tooting area of south London. He would look for women being dropped off by taxis or cars and staked out Tube stations and the stops along the N155 bus route.

Once he had identified a victim, he would follow her to her doorstep and attack from behind, putting one hand over her mouth, and use his free hand to grope her. He would rarely speak to his victims, and ran away when the women screamed or attempted to fight him off.

Reid's first attack was on 2 August 2001 when he indecently assaulted a woman, who was six months' pregnant, in broad daylight. On 18 August that year, he indecently assaulted a 61-year-old woman in Battersea. From that woman, police recovered a partial DNA sample of her attacker.

In December 2001, he struck again, in Crawborough Road, Tooting. Again, a partial DNA sample of the attacker was recovered from the victim's fingernails. It was not until March 2002, when Reid raped a woman in Barringer Square, Tooting, that police obtained a full DNA profile, but it would be another eight months before the three attacks were linked.

In September 2002, officers noted that a series of 26 indecent assaults in the Wandsworth area, dating back to 2001, had the same method and had probably been carried out by the same man. Realising they were looking for a serial sex attacker, officers looked again at the December 2001 and March 2002 attacks and established they too were part of the series. They now had a DNA profile of the attacker, but, because Reid had no previous convictions – he was acquitted of indecent assault in 1995 – no match was found on the DNA database.

Just two months later, officers missed a chance to catch him. In December 2002, the police received a call from a member of the public who reported a man following a woman. A police officer stopped Reid. The incident alarmed the officer so much that he submitted an official report on the matter, but no one acted upon it.

Reid evaded the attentions of the police for a further year before officers missed yet another chance to apprehend him. In January 2004, a man called the police to report a woman being assaulted by the driver of a red Volkswagen Golf. The caller did not give an accurate location but gave the car's registration number. The call was not followed up and no police officer ran a check on the number plate. The car belonged to Reid.

The following month, Reid was stopped again by police after an officer saw him beeping his car horn at a woman. The female officer ran the car's number plate through the system and noticed that it was the same vehicle as reported in the December incident. She warned the Sapphire team and Reid was named a "person of interest" in relation to the serial sex attacker investigation but was not arrested or interviewed.

It was not until four years later that Reid was finally captured. On 28 January 2008, the case, codenamed Operation Anflora, was passed to detectives in the Serious Crime Command. After reading the file, officers there realised that Reid was a probable suspect and three days later, on 31 January, took a DNA sample from Reid who told officers he had "nothing to worry about".

But the sample matched those recovered from the victims seven years previously and Reid was arrested on 2 February last year.

Man accused of raping 'drunk' solicitor cleared

A chef accused of raping a solicitor who claimed she was too drunk to give consent has been cleared.

Peter Bacon, 26, from Canterbury, was accused of attacking the woman at her house in Kent in February last year. But he was cleared by a jury at Winchester Crown Court who acquitted him after just 45 minutes of deliberation.

The prosecution claimed the woman was so drunk she was incapable of giving consent and that Mr Bacon took advantage of her.

But he told the court that the woman, in her forties, had consented. He said the pair had kissed and had then gone to her bedroom. In her bed he helped her out of her clothes and the pair performed oral sex on each other and had then had intercourse, the court heard. In the morning, after being woken by a kiss from the defendant, the woman said the law had changed and, because she was too drunk to consent, it was rape. Mr Bacon went to a police station to find out if he had committed an offence. He was arrested and later charged. After being acquitted yesterday he smiled and said "thank you" to the jury. Judge Patrick Hooton said the woman's claim that she could not give consent because she was drunk was "completely wrong".

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