| 12.4°C Belfast

Parole Board rejects calls to keep man who beat and raped pensioner in jail

Wendell Baker was jailed for life in 2013 after being convicted at a retrial under double jeopardy laws.

Close

Wendell Baker (Metropolitan Police/PA)

Wendell Baker (Metropolitan Police/PA)

Wendell Baker (Metropolitan Police/PA)

The Parole Board has rejected calls to keep a man who beat and raped a pensioner behind bars.

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland had intervened after the panel decided to free Wendell Baker, who was jailed for life in 2013 after being convicted at a retrial under double jeopardy laws.

In a statement a Parole Board spokesman confirmed it had upheld its original decision to approve Baker for release, insisting the ruling was a “rational one”.

Baker, now 63, had been acquitted of attacking 66-year-old Hazel Backwell, but was put on trial again after a DNA match was found “in the order of one in a billion”.

The court heard that Ms Backwell, who died in 2002, suffered a “terrifying ordeal” when Baker broke into her home in Stratford, east London, as she slept in January 1997.

We’ve had no apologies from anybody. We’ve had enoughMargaret Backwell

In a document detailing the board’s decision, retired High Court judge John Saunders said: “Although the respondent had committed a very serious offence which he continues to deny, the law is clear that such denial in itself does not mean that it was irrational to direct his release per se.”

He said the panel considered all the evidence, adding: “Accordingly, I do not consider that the decision was irrational and the application for reconsideration is refused.”

Ms Backwell’s family said they felt let down by the authorities, who had failed to notify them of the parole review, meaning they were denied the chance of taking part in the process and learned about the decision from reporters.

Daughter-in-law Margaret Backwell told the PA news agency: “It’s been one major cock-up.

“We knew he was eventually going to be released. We had come to terms with it. It was just the way it was done.

“We’ve had no apologies from anybody. We’ve had enough.

“There’s nothing we can do, we are just trying to get on with our lives.”

Normally police put the National Probation Service (NPS) in touch with victims and their families to update them on developments after prosecution but this did not happen, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said. Other efforts made before the decision became public were unsuccessful.

A department spokesman apologised and said procedures were being changed to avoid mistakes in future, adding: “We know this was distressing and it should not have happened.”

Close

Hazel Backwell (Family handout/PA)

Hazel Backwell (Family handout/PA)

PA

Hazel Backwell (Family handout/PA)

The Parole Board expressed its “immense sympathy” for the family in the “tragic case” and said it had previously called for improvements to the system so victims were properly informed.

Baker tied his victim’s hands behind her back with flex, beat and raped her, then ransacked her house before leaving her bound and trapped in a cupboard.

She was found by chance by a neighbour the next evening, the court heard.

The attack left her afraid to continue living alone or go out by herself and she “died with a very sad and broken heart”, her family said at the time.

A change in the law in 2005 allowed a person cleared of a serious offence to face retrial in certain circumstances, but when the case was reviewed in 2007, much of the evidence had been lost or destroyed.

The case was reopened in 2009 and Baker was arrested in 2011.

Jamaican-born Baker denied the attack, telling the court he had been framed by police, who he claimed had hounded him for years.

He had been in and out of prison since the 1970s for a string of offences including burglary, theft and actual bodily harm.

His minimum jail term was later cut by two years on appeal to eight years and six months.

He became eligible for parole in March, seven years after being sentenced, because the minimum term took into account the time he had already spent in custody on remand while awaiting trial.

PA