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The BBC's Danny Shaw
"His victims were young women he befriended and won over with his charm"
 real 28k

Thursday, 21 September, 2000, 16:38 GMT 17:38 UK
Serial rapist guilty again

By BBC Radio Five Live's Danny Shaw

A 39-year-old man has been sentenced to life for raping a young mother following a unique court case in which the jury heard evidence that he had been acquitted of rape five times before.

Nicholas Edwards, from south London, had denied the allegation, saying the woman consented to sex.

The jury were told that Edwards, who has two previous rape convictions, had successfully used the same defence on five previous occasions.

It is almost unheard of for the prosecution to be allowed to disclose details of unproven allegations against a defendant but, in June, the House of Lords ruled that so-called "similar fact" evidence relating to Edwards' acquittals could be used against him.

I wanted to do something to help put this man behind bars - he turned from a charming individual into a monster

Woman identified as Miss R in court
Edwards' victims were young women he befriended who he would then lure to his home or into a car, forcing them to have sex.

He was convicted of rape twice in the 1980s and received prison sentences of two years and five years.

On the five other occasions when he came to trial, the jury believed his story that the woman had consented to sex and he was cleared.

Exceptional step

In 1998, Edwards struck again, raping a 23-year-old mother in his flat.

Police then took the exceptional step of contacting the women involved in previous trials to see if they would testify against him once more, to show that the latest case was consistent with Edwards' past behaviour.

During the trial, five of the women involved in the previous cases were called as prosecution witnesses.

One woman, whom Edwards was cleared of raping in 1991, named only as Miss R, said: "This is justice, although it has come too late for me.

"When I heard he had struck again, I wanted to do something to help put this man behind bars. He turned from a charming individual into a monster."

You humiliated her and have not shown one iota of remorse

Judge Leonard Gerber
Director of Public Prosecutions David Calvert-Smith QC said: "I would like to pay tribute to the courage of the previous victims in going through the trauma of giving evidence a second time to ensure justice is done."

Judge Leonard Gerber , who told Edwards he should serve seven years before parole is considered, said: "In my view, it should be a very long time before they release you."

He said he was sentencing Edwards for the one rape charge and had put the other allegations out of his mind.

Judge Gerber said Edwards had targeted the young mother with one intention in mind - to force her into sex.

"You humiliated her and have not shown one iota of remorse," he said.

Referring to the Lords' ruling, Judge Gerber added: "It is a very welcome change in a very difficult area where juries have to try cases when it is one person's word against another's."

Civil liberties concerns

The precedent this trial has set may encourage more victims to come forward and help boost the conviction rate in rape cases.

The Crown Prosecution Service said it would be studying the Lords' ruling in depth to assess the wider implications, describing it as a "significant step forward," in a statement.

But solicitor and legal trainer Stephen Gilchrist said there were worrying implications.

"Does it mean that somebody who continually gets into trouble for a particular type of offence is going to increasingly meet, yet again, all his previous victims in every subsequent court case in order to prove his guilt in the latest case," he said.

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