Two men have been caged for rapes they committed more than 20 years ago – after they were tracked down through their DNA.
Shaun Harrison and Alexander Shepherd were jailed for more than 14 years in total for their sex attacks.
Harrison, 46 and from North Prospect, was locked up for eight years for raping and twice indecently assaulting a teenage girl in the city centre in 1989.
Alexander Shepherd, 50, was sentenced to six years and four months for knocking a woman unconscious and raping her in Devonport Park in 1990.
The unrelated cold cases were both solved thanks to advances in DNA technology.
But questions still linger as to why their victims had to wait for over two decades for justice.
Judge Paul Darlow, who sentenced both yesterday, 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.
The judge told Shepherd that he had condemned his victim to more than 20 years of “misery” while she waited for her attacker to be brought to justice.
Shepherd changed his plea on the day of his trial to admit rape.
Police today hailed technological advances which allowed them to solve the cases using DNA evidence when they were separately reviewed.
Devon and Cornwall police voluntarily referred both cases to the Independent Police Complaints Commission in June 2011.
Not a shred of remorse’ for brutal attack
Described as a “brutal and terrifying” sex attack, Shaun Harrison had dragged his teenage victim off the street and into a city car park.
And after keeping the dark secret hidden for 23 years, yesterday justice finally caught up with him as he was jailed for 12 years.
Harrison was locked up for raping and twice indecently assaulting the stranger near Eastlake Street in the city centre in 1989.
The 46-year-old was also convicted of raping another woman outside a Plymouth nightclub in 1995.
Harrison, of Orchard Road in North Prospect, had denied all four charges but was convicted by a jury in March.
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.
Rapist’s victim suffered 22-years of ‘misery'
Alexander Shepherd’s failure to confess forced his rape victim to endure 22 years of “misery”, a judge said yesterday.
Shepherd has been caged for six years and four months – but only thanks to advances in DNA technology.
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.
He added: “This was not a man who was out in Plymouth town centre looking to prey on a lone female.”
Mr Gerasimidis said that at the time of the offence Shepherd was going through a marriage break-up.
He said Shepherd was now living in Tiverton with his long-term partner and cared for his ailing elderly mother.
No hiding place from their crimes
A senior detective said that there was “no hiding place” for offenders who left traces of their DNA at the scenes of their crimes.
Detective Superintendent Iain Grafton, speaking after Shaun Harrison and Alexander Shepherd were jailed for rape, said: “It does just show we will never give up.”
He added advances in DNA since their crimes were committed within six months of one another had enabled the men to be identified.
Det Supt Grafton said: “There is no hiding place for offenders as far as DNA is concerned.
“We will go back 23 years to bring people to justice.”
He added comparing the science to what could be done at that time was a little like comparing modern aeroplanes with early aircraft made from “wood and string”.
Plymouth Crown Court was told that traces of DNA were detected on the clothing of Shepherd’s victim at the time of his offence in 1990.
Nick Lewin, for the Crown Prosecution Service, said: “Back in 1990 an item of clothing was sent to the Forensic Science Service in Chepstow, as it then was.
“It was analysed at that stage with the scientific levels of examination that were available. Unfortunately at that stage no trace could be found of the identity of the offender.”
Mr Lewin said the case grew so cold that the original case file was destroyed.
But he added the Forensic Science Service picked his case among many others for updated analysis in 2011.
The clothing, which had been retained, was sent to a laboratory at Abingdon in Oxfordshire.
Mr Lewin said: “The profile obtained was compared against a database of known offenders and up popped Alexander Shepherd as the source of the DNA.”
He added that police had Shepherd’s DNA because he was convicted in the very same courtroom, Number Three, of a sexual offence involving a prostitute in Plymouth’s red light area back in 2007.
Det Supt Grafton, speaking after the Harrison hearing, said his case was reviewed separately by Devon and Cornwall Police in September 2010.
He added the force had a specialist unit which conducted rolling reviews of unsolved crimes.
A DNA sample had been recovered from the teenager’s dress but no match was found at the time. Det Supt Grafton said advances in DNA matched the sample found on her dress to Shaun Harrison.
He pointed out that at the time the first rape was committed there was no national database of DNA profiles.
The court heard the victim of the second rape only came forward as a result of the investigation into the first offence.
In 1995, the Government launched the national DNA database to allow police to store profiles.
Forensic officers gather DNA by securing crime scenes and recovering material such as hair samples, blood or other bodily fluids – especially those left on clothing.
Police officers now routinely swab the mouths of offenders arrested for particular serious offences.
DNA is the chemical found in almost every cell of the human body and carries genetic information from one generation to the next. Except for identical twins, every person’s genetic code is unique.
Det Supt Grafton praised the courage of the women in both cases who came forward ready to give evidence in court.
He pointed out that it was pure chance that both rapists were sentenced on the same day and sexual assaults on strangers remained very rare.
Det Supt Grafton said both cases were referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) voluntarily by the police in June last year.
He added: “We wanted an independent body to look at the work of the police and other agencies who work together when dealing with serious offending.”
It is not known when the IPCC will issue its report.
DNA profiling: The facts
In the 1980s, British scientist Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys found a way of taking a sample of someone’s DNA and converting it into a unique numerical code, or ‘profile’.
The British government launched the National DNA Database in 1995.
Today, it holds almost seven million profiles.
DNA samples are taken from crime scenes and anybody arrested for an offence punishable with imprisonment.
Samples are taken from cells lining the inside of a person’s mouth using swabs.
Profiles are stored indefinitely, unless a subject successfully appeals.
Samples are also taken from volunteers, whose profiles will not be added to the database unless requested by the subject.
The National Policing Improvement Agency calls the database the “most effective tool for the prevention and detection of crime since the development of fingerprint analysis over 100 years ago”.
Between April 1, 2011 and March 31 this year the database produced 124 matches to murder, 522 to rapes and 28,996 to other crime scenes.
The database has been criticised on human rights grounds.
Young black men are disproportionately more likely to be arrested.
It has been reported that around 40 per cent of all black men in the UK are on the system, compared with nine per cent of white men.
A 2008 European Court of Human Rights judgement found the England and Wales system to be discriminatory and unfair – which lead to changes in how long profiles can be stored for adults released without conviction, and under 18s convicted of minor offences.