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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 March, 2004, 15:41 GMT
Huge hunt for rapist
By Tanya Gupta
BBC News Online, South East

Wimbledon Common, where a 52-year-old-woman was raped
Imiela attacked close to woods and near housing estates
A "rape spree" which began with the abduction of a 10-year-old girl from outside a youth centre ended in the biggest police inquiry since the Yorkshire Ripper.

At its height, the hunt for Antoni Imiela involved 350 officers who handled a total of 10,000 calls from the public after appeals for information.

And police revealed that, after the first attack, officers feared the rapist would kill.

Railway worker Imiela, 49, was finally cornered on a motorway at midnight.

By that time, he had raped seven women in the course of a year.

In his first attack, he snatched a child and took her to several sites where she was assaulted and finally raped - at one stage he tied her trousers around her neck.

In another attack, Imiela used a victim's own mobile phone to call her mother and taunt her that he had just raped her 26-year-old daughter.

The biggest inquiry since the Yorkshire Ripper
350 officers from six forces worked on the inquiry
The investigation, excluding the trial, has cost 2.1m
Nearly 10,000 calls were received in response to appeals
There are 68,000 documents and exhibits
An additional 1,000 items were used in the trial
More than 3,500 men were DNA tested

After the first attack happened in Ashford, where the child had been helping the organisers of a police-run youth club by taking down posters from outside a community centre, Kent's major crime unit took up the investigation.

Detective Superintendent Colin Murray said: "There was the danger that he could attack again, that he could go further and perhaps kill someone."

It was in the first stages of the Kent Police inquiry that officers began the largest DNA hunt so far undertaken after collecting vital samples in the first attack on 15 November, 2001.

More than 3,500 men were tested against what police referred to as "the crime stain profile".

But after nearly eight months of inquiries, a second woman was attacked - this time a 30-year-old in Redhill who had been out walking.

She was raped and beaten in undergrowth next to a stream.

Mr Murray said: "It was the beginning of a spree of rapes and the early signs were that they were linked."

Imiela strikes nine times
15 November 2001 A 10-year-old girl is abducted and raped in Ashford, Kent.
11 July 2002 A woman, 30, is raped and beaten in Earlswood, Surrey, at 10.30am.
11 July 2002 Six hours later, a woman, 26, is raped on Putney Common, London.
6 August 2002 The oldest victim, a woman, 52, is raped on Wimbledon Common.
7 August 2002 A 26-year-old woman is raped in an area of woodland in Epsom, Surrey.
6 September 2002 A girl, 13, is grabbed off her bicycle and raped in Woking, Surrey.
25 October 2002 A 14-year-old girl is raped in woods in Stevenage, Hertfordshire.
21 November 2002 The man indecently attacks and tries to rape a girl, 10, in Birmingham.

Imiela attacked nine women in 12 months, subjecting them to ordeals which ranged from rape, to attempted rape, kidnap and indecent assault - one girl's ordeal lasted five hours.

Mr Murray said: "In this investigation, the press were as determined to catch him as we were. We all have wives and daughters."

The pattern that emerged was that all the attacks were near wooded areas and not far from housing estates.

In appeals, officers said the women were pounced on from behind and either punched, or threatened with a knife.

A Crimewatch appeal was broadcast on 24 October, 2002, and members of the public supplied police with 4,000 names by using the Crimestoppers information line - one caller supplied Imiela's address.

Officers finally arrested Imiela on a motorway in Kent.

Mr Murray said: "At about lunchtime on 2 December, he was our suspect.

"Inquiries continued throughout the rest of the day.

"He was arrested on the M20 later that night - at half past midnight on 3 December.

"We had decided it was the right place and time."


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