Page last updated at 16:59 GMT, Tuesday, 28 July 2009 17:59 UK

File loss blunder in rape case

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The BBC's Richard Bilton tracks down Wendell Baker during his investigation

A man suspected of raping a woman 12 years ago cannot face prosecution, as the police have lost the case file.

Wendell Baker's DNA matches that of the man who broke into Hazel Backwell's home in Stratford east London, beat and raped her and left her in a cupboard.

Mr Baker was charged with rape, but a judge ruled his DNA had been unlawfully retained. This decision was then overturned by the Law Lords in 2000.

The story has come to light following a BBC investigation into the case.

If the police have no case file then we cannot apply for a retrial
CPS spokesman

A retrial cannot take place unless the original case file can be found.

Mrs Backwell, who has since died, was 66 at the time of the attack.

She was asleep in her home when the intruder broke in, struck her over the head, tied her hands behind her back and sexually assaulted her.

She spent 15 hours in a cupboard below the stairs before she was found by a friend who raised the alarm.

A change in the double jeopardy law in 2005 would allow a retrial to take place if there was "new and compelling evidence".

But a Metropolitan Police spokeswoman said after "extensive" searches police could not find the file, which contains the victim's statement and details of supporting evidence.

Hazel Backwell
Hazel Backwell was found by a friend in an understairs cupboard

Searches and inquiries have been carried out in the police archives, at the Forensic Science Service, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), the Old Bailey, the Royal Courts of Justice and the House of Lords.

The original trial judge and barristers have also also been contacted, it is understood.

The police spokeswoman added that losing the case files was "deeply regrettable".

"It is not a case we can progress any further," she said.

A CPS spokesman confirmed a search had been carried out for the file but said it was the police's responsibility to look after such documents.

"If the police have no case file then we cannot apply for a retrial," he added.

Earlier this year, the law lords lifted a ban on naming Mr Baker in a case which was brought by the BBC.

Sam Collyns, a producer at Mentorn Media which undertook the investigation for the BBC, said: "We're bewildered and bemused that police have lost files that contain evidence critical to the case.

"The police should look harder - the public interest in bringing this man to justice is overwhelming."

He added: "It seems embarrassing to say the least that the police have misplaced the paperwork."

The story is due to be featured on BBC1 investigative show Double Jeopardy at 2235 BST on Thursday.



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