Belfast Telegraph

Sex attacker caught after decade at large

By michael donnelly

A sexual predator, who subjected two women to "cruel and callous" alleyway attacks, has been sent to jail for 14 years.

Sean Heaton evaded justice for over 10 years until advances in DNA profiling techniques revealed his identity to police.

The 48-year-old would-be rapist, who attacked two women in separate incidents which happened four years apart, was told he deserved the "utmost condemnation" by the judge who sent him to prison.

An earlier hearing was told that Heaton had stalked his victims in what were premeditated attacks. On both occasions he hid his identity, firstly by blindfolding his victim, and years later wearing a ski mask and wearing latex gloves. However, despite his efforts, his own DNA betrayed him and finally proved his guilt.

He attempted to rape both victims and forced them both down alleyways where there was no chance of help.

In the first attack in 2002, Heaton targeted an 18-year-old who he dragged down an alleyway close to his then home in the John Martin Street area of Newry.

Then in August 2006, after moving to his current address in Mourne Drive in Warrenpoint, he attacked a 49-year-old woman who he had pulled into an entry close to his new home.

The sex attacker first struck in January 2002, when he grabbed an 18-year-old woman and pulled her into an alleyway.

He blindfolded her and tried to rape her while saying he would "score her face" so badly she would be unrecognisable.

After initially escaping justice and moving to Warrenpoint, Heaton set about planning another attack.

He attacked again in August 2006, this time his victim was a 49-year-old woman unable get a taxi home.

She was confronted by a masked man who threatened to slit her throat if she attempted to shout out. The man was Heaton, who dragged her down an entry in the Mourne Drive area.

This time, as well as sexually abusing her, he also robbed her of a bracelet after she told him she had no cash.

Newry Crown Court Judge Gemma Loughran told Heaton he had "behaved in a cruel and callous way, which deserves the utmost condemnation", and that a psychiatric report on him gave "a quite chilling account of your behaviour".

In this second report, said Judge Loughran, Heaton described how after the first attack he felt "an enjoyable sense of power of control" and later this led him "to prepare for a future attack, convinced that you could get away with it and that there was nothing wrong in what you planned to do".

The 48-year-old had pleaded guilty to a total of 11 counts, including the attempted rape of his first victim, indecently assaulting and holding both women captive, and assaulting his second victim, with intent to rape her, whilst also robbing and threatening to kill her.

Heaton was jailed for nine years for the attempted rape, with additional terms of four and one year, for attacking his second victim, intending to rape her, and for threatening to kill her.

Judge Loughran also told Heaton that the anguish he caused his victims – realising they would be unable to defend themselves from his intended sex attack – "can scarcely be imagined".

The only mitigating factor, in his case, said the judge, was his previous good character and his guilty pleas "albeit, very late in the day".

The orders against Heaton include being put on the Sex Offenders' Register for life, being banned from working with children and vulnerable adults, never contact his victims, and for 20 years following his release, he must also seek the approval of a risk manager as to where he lives and who he enters a relationship with.

Defence QC Peter Irvine said that Heaton deserved credit for his guilty pleas, saving as it did, his victims from the undoubted stress and trauma of having to give evidence in a public court.

It was, he added, an extremely serious case, but one in which Heaton had now begun to display empathy with his victims.

"He has a deep realisation of the hurt and harm that he brought on these two women," said Mr Irvine who accepted that the court could properly pass consecutive sentences in his case.

Detective Inspector Stephen Wilson of the Serious Crime Branch welcomed yesterday's sentencing.

"The investigation into these crimes was prolonged, protracted and very difficult for the victims, their family, and indeed, the police officers from the specialist Rape Crime Unit involved in the investigation," he said.

Reign of terror ended by gravy stain

A gravy stain on the new coat of one of Sean Heaton's victims provided police with the key they needed to unlock his identity.

Detectives investigating the terrifying attack on the teenager after she was dragged down an alleyway were able to retrieve both his thumbprint and DNA after holding on to the victim's coat.

Heaton's first victim was only 18 when, on January 14, 2002, he struck. The young woman happened to be wearing a new coat, and was eating a takeway meal when she was grabbed and forced down an entry at the rear of Heaton's then home in John Martin Street in Newry.

Heaton had threatened to "score her face" so badly her family would not recognise her.

Fortunately, police held on to her coat and two years ago, nearly a decade after the attack, a partial thumb print was recovered from a brown gravy stain. This was possible through advances in DNA profiling.

More importantly, forensic experts were also able to retrieve Heaton's DNA from the printed stain.

The predator evaded arrest and went on to attack again – crucially again leaving behind DNA evidence.

On August 27, 2006, a 49-year-old woman was unable get a taxi home from Warrenpoint.

She was confronted by a masked Heaton who threatened to slit her throat if she attempted to shout out.

He dragged her down an entry in the Mourne Drive area of seaside County Down town. This time, as well as sexually abusing her, he also robbed her of a bracelet after she told him she had no cash.

Finally, when arrested in June 2011, Heaton, who has been in custody since then, admitted living in both areas in Newry and Warrenpoint, but had no explanation as to how his DNA was found and recovered from both attacks.

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