A man who brutally attacked, raped and left a woman locked in a cupboard for 15 hours has been found guilty today, Tuesday 25 June, in a landmark double jeopardy historic case at the Old Bailey.
Wendell Wilberforce Baker 56 (07.03.57), was convicted of the rape of Hazel Backwell, 66 (15.05.30) which took place in January 1997 at her home address in Litchfield Avenue, E15.
He will be sentenced on Friday 28 June.
The investigation, known as Operation Starfield, began after retired Mrs Backwell - who has sadly since died - was raped in the early hours of 23 January 1997. She had woken up to find Baker standing on a chair in front of her wardrobe.
Startled and frightened at finding Baker in her room, she asked him what he was doing. Baker shouted at her not to look at him and he jumped down off the chair and pulled the blankets over her head. Her hands were tied up with flex and Baker began hitting Mrs Backwell before later raping her.
After Baker subjected her to the rape she was locked in a cramped cupboard for 15 hours where she was unable to stand properly. Mrs Backwell desperately called out for help and was eventually found by a friend who happened to be passing. Police have no doubt she would have died had she not been found.
An investigation began at a borough level and DNA samples were taken from the victim and sent to the national DNA database. No match was shown.
In January 1998 Baker was arrested for a burglary in Hackney. On arrest he gave a saliva sample which was sent to the national database. Baker was charged with burglary but later acquitted of the offence.
The law at that time stated that DNA of an individual could only be retained if they were convicted of a recordable offence. The burglary sample should therefore have been destroyed, but remained on the database and showed a clear match with DNA from the rape. There was only a one in 17 million chance that they were not from the same person.
On the basis of the DNA match, Baker was arrested on 15 October 1998 and charged with the rape of Mrs Backwell. He refused to provide a fresh DNA sample, so - as permitted by law - a sample of his hair was taken and used to provide a second DNA sample, which also matched that taken from Hazel Backwell.
However, as Baker had been arrested and charged with the rape only on the basis of the saliva sample from the burglary, which should have been destroyed, the defence argued that the match should not be disclosed to the jury.
The rape trial was discontinued by the Judge on 19 June 1999 and Baker was acquitted of the rape of Mrs Backwell. The Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) appealed the Judge's decision but lost.
The case was taken to the House of Lords in December 2000 and an appeal was granted but this did not change the fact that Baker had been acquitted.
In 2001, prompted in part by the House of Lords judgment, the then Home Secretary Jack Straw announced plans under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) 1984 to retain all genetic samples on the database indefinitely, even when a suspect was acquitted.
Sadly Hazel Backwell died, aged 72, in 2002 before seeing a change in the law that would allow her case to be heard before a jury.
After new legislation regarding the double jeopardy rule became effective in 2005 (meaning individuals could be tried twice, in certain circumstances, for the same specified serious offences), officers from the Homicide and Serious Crime Command (HSCC) Special Casework Investigation Team were assigned in October 2007 to re-investigate the rape, as it fulfilled the criteria for double jeopardy.
However, when officers tried to obtain the original case files, they found they had not been retained. The MPS approached the court, the CPS and the House of Lords, none of whom had retained copies of the case papers.
On 30 July 2009, BBC Panorama broadcast a programme on double jeopardy and referenced the rape of Mrs Backwell.
In 2010, officers established that the original defence solicitors had retained a set of case papers which he obtained from them by court order.
The authority of the Director of Public Prosecution had to be obtained for police to further investigate Baker. He was then re-arrested for the rape of Hazel Backwell on 14 September 2011. He gave a DNA sample which matched the sample from the rape. He was charged with the offence and remanded in custody.
Detective Chief Inspector Christopher Burgess, head of the Specialist Crime Review Group, said: “This was a horrendous and brutal assault on a lone female in her home. Baker subjected Hazel to a frightening and terrifying attack and callously locked her in a cupboard where she feared she may never be found.
“It is down to true strength of character that Hazel survived the ordeal and was able to bravely provide a statement to police giving a detailed account of what Baker had put her through.
“Sadly Hazel passed away in 2002 and it is deeply regrettable that she is unable to see justice being served today.
“Baker has continued to protest his innocence for 16 years and has shown no remorse for the depraved crime he committed.
“I would like to praise the family of Hazel Backwell who have been dignified and shown a tremendous amount of courage throughout their fight in seeing justice for Hazel. I hope that today’s conviction goes some way in providing closure for the family who have endured so much.
“I would also like to thank the CPS for their co-operation in assisting us in bringing this case before a judge and jury.
“A change in the law has allowed us to achieve the result we have today. Offenders need to know that where possible the MPS will continue review cases where new and compelling evidence presents itself and work towards putting these cases before the court.”
NON ATTRIBUTABLE: Statement from the family of Hazel Backwell
NON ATTRIBUTABLE: “Hazel’s life was completely changed after the rape and attack. She felt unable to stay in her own home due to fear. She then had to move into warden assisted flat.
“Hazel had to leave her own home where she had lived and been very happy for over 30 years. She very much loved her home and garden and had to leave behind some very good friends. Hazel had to also give up her much loved cat which broke her heart as she was unable to keep her cat in her new flat.
“Hazel never settled into the warden assisted flat as it never felt like her own home. She only went out when taken by a friend as she was to frightened to go out on her own but even this was very rare.
“Hazel never got over her ordeal and the family believe she died with a very sad and broken heart. After the rape and attack her life was never to be the same again. This led to the last few years of her life being very lonely and sad and very afraid.
“The family of Hazel Backwell are now very grateful that after fifteen years the police and CPS have been able to bring this case to a satisfactory conclusion. On behalf of Hazel Backwell the family are very pleased that justice has now been done but it is sad our mum is not here to witness the outcome.