What is the connection between the April 1993 murder of Stephen Lawrence (back in the news yet again
this week) and the rape of a pensioner nearly four years later?
One of the recommendations of the ludicrous Macpherson Report
was the abolition of the double jeopardy law, the implementation of which led to the convictions of Gary Dobson and David Norris
for the same murder 18 years on. There has also been at least one similar case, the 2006 conviction of William Dunlop for the 1989 murder of Julie Hogg
In 1997, 66 year old East Londoner Hazel Backwell was raped in her own home. This was not a common or garden rape, but one of the worst kind. The victim was also beaten severely then locked in a cupboard where but for a providential visitor
, she might have died.
Wendell Baker was not arrested for this crime but for another burglary, after which his DNA was matched to that of the man who had violated Hazel Backwell. He stood trial for rape in 1999, but for complex legal reasons of the type "how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?" the judge ruled the DNA evidence inadmissible, and Baker walked free. There was no other evidence. The victim had described her attacker
as white - which clearly Baker isn't - but the law isn't as simple as that.
Valerie Storie picked out the wrong man from a police line-up, initially, but her rapist James Hanratty was eventually indicted and convicted of an even more heinous crime, for which he was hanged
Four years ago, the BBC confronted Baker in the street after the successful challenge of an anonymity order. Understandably he wasn't too happy, as can be seen from the video
At his retrial this month, when confronted with the DNA evidence, Baker claimed the police had framed him. The match was said to be in the order of a billion to one
. These sort of figures are often thrown around by prosecutors, and they are not to be taken seriously, but is it possible the police framed Baker? Possible, but not as likely as in the aforementioned Dobson and Norris case, although for whatever reason, their Counsel did not even raise this possibility at trial.
Today, Baker was given a life sentence
with a tariff of ten and a half years. Hazel Backwell was not able to testify against him; she died in 2002.
Although apart from the man himself few people will be sorry to see him taken off the street, this is a bad law, especially as in his case as with Dobson and Norris it was applied retrospectively, which is itself a violation of the rule of law. Currently it is applied only in extremely serious cases, but there is no doubt an attempt will be made to extend it at some time in the future. This will allow the police and prosecutors to withhold evidence from a trial, in order to have a second bite at the cherry, or as many as they need in order to get the verdict they want.