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The wrong man: Two British women waive anonymity to help clear alleged rapist

Two British women raped on Barbados have begun an extraordinary campaign to help clear the man accused of the attacks. They tell Terri Judd of their search for justice on the Caribbean island

When Derick Crawford is led into the dock of a Barbados magistrates' court on Tuesday, he will stand accused by police of being a "dangerous felon", the perpetrator of the particularly brutal daylight rapes of two British women.

Watching on from the public gallery will be one of his alleged victims. Yet Rachel Turner, a 30-year-old academic from Hertfordshire will be there, not to condemn Mr Crawford, but to support a man she is convinced is innocent.

The university researcher has no idea who this 47-year-old Barbadian is, she simply knows that he is not the man who dragged her off a beach path and violently attacked her. His face is unrecognisable, his age is wrong but most acutely his voice is not the one imprinted on her memory.

Back in Britain, Diane Davies, a 63-year-old widow and retired primary school teacher who suffered an identical attack just two days after Dr Turner, is equally adamant that the police have got the wrong man.

Frustrated that their protestations have fallen on deaf ears, both women have taken the rare and courageous step of waving a sex attack victim's automatic right to anonymity in order to make their objection public, believing their real rapist is still at large.

"They have made no effort to find him. That is the crux of the matter. How many more cases have there been that we won't have heard about?" said Mrs Davies yesterday.

Backing their cause is Hilary Heath, 66 – a renowned actress in the 1970s and now an addiction counsellor – who endured a similar rape while working for a charity on the Caribbean island eight years ago. She was so struck by how the women's descriptions of apparent police inertia and incompetence matched her own that she agreed to fund Mr Crawford's defence.

As a result, Andrew Pilgrim, president of the Barbados Bar Association, will represent Derick Crawford when he appears at a preliminary hearing at the magistrates' court in Holetown to decide whether there is sufficient evidence to proceed to trial.

Dr Turner arrived in Barbados two years ago to take up an environmental research post at the University of the West Indies, just as Mrs Davies returned as a tourist to the holiday island she had deliberately selected for its reputation as a safe haven for tourists. Shortly after lunch one Saturday afternoon in October 2010, Dr Turner was walking down a narrow path to the beach when she heard a man running behind her. She was raped in a deserted hotel building before her attacker ran off.

Two days later, Mrs Davies was walking down the same path when she endured an identical rape; the grandmother from Anglesey was left with a broken collarbone and ribs.

The descriptions of the attacker given independently by both women were so similar that at one point they even mixed up the photo-fits they had helped to compose. Equally similar is their account of a police force that they say treated them with a callous lack of sympathy in the traumatic hours that followed and the dismissive nature with which their attempts to offer evidence were greeted.

Their treatment chimes loudly with Mrs Heath. As part of a master's degree in mental health, she moved to Barbados 10 years ago to work as a counsellor at Verdun House, a charitable foundation which helps drug addicts after they leave prison. She was asleep at home in 2004 when she was raped by an attacker who eventually pleaded guilty to raping her and five other women.

With the help of QC and criminologist Dr Barrie Irving, she compiled a file on her case seven years ago, which she sent to the Barbados Police Complaints Authority (PCA). Mr Justice LeRoy Inniss, chairman of the PCA, said yesterday that Mrs Heath's case had been investigated, and insisted: "The Authority has since concluded its interviews and investigations and has approved a response which will be sent to Ms Heath very shortly." Yet by early last year, Mrs Heath was so frustrated that she decided to waive her anonymity and publicly complain that little had changed since her rape – that the authorities in Barbados were doing nothing to warn women of the dangers of sex attacks and failing to investigate them properly.

"Nobody wants to hurt the island's tourism but you want people to be protected. When I heard about Diane's case I thought 'My God, they have done nothing'," said Mrs Heath. "If this man is the wrong man, they have been holding him for two years and they have not been out there looking for the man who did it."

Just weeks after she went to the press with her concerns, the police in Barbados announced that the attacker in the case of Dr Turner and Mrs Davies had been caught.

"It was a very strange coincidence that this happened just after my article. It was weird that they suddenly had the man," said Mrs Heath.

The rapist, police alleged, was Derick Crawford, whose face had appeared in the Bajan Reporter. A £1,600 (BBD $5,000) reward was offered to catch this "dangerous felon" with a "bulbous nose, small flat ears and wide-set eyes".

Yet neither Dr Turner nor Mrs Davies recognised the man in the photograph. When asked to attend an identity parade last May, the former was warned by police before even entering the room that he had changed his appearance.

"The first thing I said was he is not among these people. I was convinced if I saw him, I would recognise him," explained Dr Turner, adding that the first preliminary court hearing compounded her doubts. "When I heard him speak I just knew then it definitely was not him. He is the wrong age and wrong build. His face is all wrong and his voice is all wrong."

Mrs Davies insists her every attempt to formally identify her attacker has been rebuffed by the Royal Barbados Police Force. "They have refused dogmatically to let me identify him. I have asked over and over again." She added: "I have stated categorically that is not the man who attacked me. He is older and his features are totally different. We both, independently of each other, said he was in his early to mid-thirties."

Both women have written to the Commissioner of Police and Director of Public Prosecutions to complain.

Yesterday Police Commissioner Darwin Dottin acknowledged that both Dr Turner and Mrs Davies had expressed their concerns but added: "The Royal Barbados Police Force has an excellent reputation in the law enforcement community and is highly regarded. This is not to say that we never make mistakes. On the contrary, on such occasions, it is our policy to admit our failings. To suggest that we put the reputation of our country before the welfare and comfort of our visitors is utterly wrong. Almost one million visitors come to Barbados each year. The overwhelming number of these visits are incident-free. In fact the rate of victimisation is negligible."

But Dr Tuner said she remained worried that the real attacker was still at large: "It is not so much that I am scared myself, knowing that the rapist is still out there, it is that I don't want this to happen to anyone else."

Mrs Davies agrees: "I am a very independent person but I am never going to be able to walk on to a foreign beach without looking over my shoulder all the time. I can't believe it happened to me in exactly the same place, at the same time, two days later. It makes me angry.

"They just hope we will go away and forget about it but we won't. We feel too strongly. I feel like we have been banging our heads against a brick wall but people ought to know how they treat tourists over there."

Barbados by numbers

17: Percentage drop in Brits visiting this August compared to last

15: Percentage of the island's GDP contributed by tourism

12,700: Number of people employed by tourism, according to 2010 figures

189,000: The number of Brits who visited Barbados last year – of a total 568,000 holidaymakers