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Plymouth rapist went free for 10 years because of administrative error

By NeilShaw  |  Posted: October 23, 2012


A Plymouth rapist went free for 10 years despite his DNA being on record with police because of an administrative error.

Devon and Cornwall police missed chances to solve rape cases even though they had the DNA of suspected rapists on file because they failed to 'upgrade' those samples to a national database.

That is the conclusion published today of an Independent Police Complaints Commission investigation into the processing by Devon and Cornwall Constabulary DNA samples in rape cases.

The investigation uncovered three other rape cases where the DNA had not been uploaded to the national databse - including another in Plymouth.

The investigation, prompted by the case of a Plymouth man convicted of rape after a DNA sample was finally upgraded, concluded that the force did not upgrade all their historic DNA samples in some serious crimes.

The IPCC independent investigation followed a referral last year of a case where Shaun Harrison was charged and convicted of the rape of a 16-year-old in Plymouth city centre on 22 September 1989.

The IPCC investigation found that the force had not instructed the Forensic Science Service to load a DNA sample taken in 1989 onto the national DNA database, which was established in 1995, despite being advised by the FSS of this process.

Shaun Harrison's DNA was taken in 2000 after he was charged with drink driving - but because the 1989 sample had not been upgraded to the database no match was made.

In August 2010, a man contacted the police and confessed to committing a rape in Plymouth in 1988. Following DNA testing of evidential material he was found not to have committed any such crime.

However, the sample from the rape in 1989 was upgraded on the database because of the false confession - and there was a match with Shaun Harrison because of his November 2000 drink-driving charge.

Following the identification of the events surrounding Harrison’s DNA sample a complete review was carried out by Devon and Cornwall Police with the FSS into other historic serious sexual offences where forensic material had been retained.

This led to the upgrading of forensic samples in three further cases occurring in 1989, 1990 and 1993.

Positive DNA results were obtained and the issues raised in these cases was referred to the IPCC and added to the independent investigation.

IPCC Deputy Chair Deborah Glass said: “Scientific advances have made it possible for historic crimes to be solved through the use of DNA analysis. However, that process is not automatic because of the cost involved.

“Our investigation found that Devon and Cornwall missed opportunities over the years to review this case. This meant that Harrison’s and others DNA samples were not upgraded in line with forensic advancements.

“The force has accepted all of the IPCC recommendations and has assured us that it has systematically ensured that all of its samples have been upgraded and a number of perpetrators of serious sexual assault crimes have since been brought to justice.

“The key issue identified by the IPCC is the way that police forces have to specifically request that DNA samples from historic cases be upgraded in line with forensic advancements. The IPCC has shared its learning recommendations with the Association of Chief Police Officers and is also arranging for the learning to be shared with the police service through a Learning the Lessons Bulletin.”

Shaun Harrison, 46 from Orchard Road, North Prospect, was locked up for eight years in Septmeber this year for raping and twice indecently assaulting a teenage girl in the city centre in 1989.

Judge Paul Darlow told Harrison he had subjected the girl to a “terrifying and brutal” ordeal in Eastlake Street.

Harrison was also jailed for another four years for raping another woman outside a nightclub in Plymouth in 1995.

Judge Darlow said Harrison had shown “not a shred of remorse”.

He had denied two rapes and two indecent assaults but was found guilty at a trial.

Police said after the case that Harrison was identified by a sample found on the girl’s dress thanks to advances in DNA technology.

Judge Paul Darlow, sitting at Plymouth Crown Court, told Harrison he had raped the girl as she waited for her boyfriend on September 22 1989.

He added: “Brutally and terrifyingly, you took her to a secluded car park behind the shops in what is now Drake Circus and you raped her.”

Judge Darlow said Harrison had shown “not a shred of remorse” for his crimes.

He jailed him for eight years for the first rape and four for the next, with no additional sentence for the indecent assaults.

The Crown Prosecution Service offered no evidence on a string of other alleged sexual offences. The judge entered formal ‘not guilty’ verdicts.

The court heard Harrison was convicted of an assault causing grievous bodily harm in 1985, for which he was fined.

Siobhan Molloy, for Harrison, said: “The defendant does not accept the verdicts of the jury.”

She added he had no convictions since 1995 and had been in custody for 600 days as a result of the latest allegations. The Herald reported back in 1989 that the teenage girl was raped in a small car park at the side of what was then Marks and Spencer in Eastlake Street. A photofit was issued at the time but no arrests were made until Harrison was detained in January last year.

The second Plymouth rape case solved after DNA was uploaded to the national database related to the violent assault and rape of a 27-year-old woman in

Plymouth in 1990.

In 2011, following the identification and upgrade of the retained forensic material a match was reported on the NDNAD.

Alexander Shepherd was arrested and charged in December 2011.

Shepherd was sentenced to six years and four months imprisonment.

Plymouth Crown Court heard how the 50-year-old knocked the woman unconscious and dragged her into Devonport Park before raping her.

The woman, then in her 20s, was walking home alone after a night out when Shepherd attacked her in the street.

Shepherd, who was living in Torpoint when the attack happened, in 1990, had previously denied raping the woman.

But he changed his plea as a trial was about to start.

But Judge Darlow said: “It is not a plea which saves the woman the misery of 20 years or more of not knowing who was responsible for attacking her, of not having the closure of that person being tracked down, brought before the courts and sentenced.”

Nick Lewin, for the Crown Prosecution Service, told Plymouth Crown Court that the woman left a nightclub at 2am on March 18, 1990.

He said she was “relatively sober” but decided to walk home alone.

Mr Lewin added that she passed Shepherd sitting on the pavement at the junction of Devonport Road and Exmouth Road in Stoke.

Mr Lewin said Shepherd “made some comment about her visiting him in Torpoint”.

He added that Shepherd had walked alongside her, grabbed her and tried to kiss her.

Mr Lewin added the next thing she knew she awoke in nearby Devonport Park. She had bruises around her eyes and a badly cut lip.

She later realised she had been raped.

Nicolas Gerasimidis, for Shepherd, said the attack was not premeditated.

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