Wednesday, November 09, 2016

How I had to fight for 20 years to get my rapist jailed: Mother-of-two who was raped eight times in her own home was forced to BEG police to pursue her attacker

Lynda Donnelly produces notes scribbled on the packaging of the Boots No. 7 foundation she wore in the days when appearance mattered to her.

‘Rang Crimewatch at 9ish, March 31. Told police would ring me. Rang back three times. 11.40pm: no joy. April 1, rang police complaints. Lady gave me chief of police Paul Stephenson’s number . . .’ And so on.

It is one of many bits of paper in a file Lynda began to compile on the day the ‘happiest years’ of her life abruptly ended: July 22, 1996 — the date Lynda was brutally raped in her South-East London home.

Her terrifying ordeal — the full details of which are too disturbing to reveal in a family newspaper — lasted for several hours as her two young children slept in adjoining bedrooms.

Suffice to say, the injuries she sustained were so appalling she was unable to see her five-year-old daughter or four-year-old-son for six weeks for fear of distressing them.

‘I thought about killing myself but I couldn’t do it because of my children,’ says Lynda, now 45.

‘They were the only thing that kept me going — that and because I was so sure the police were going to catch the guy.

They said: “We’ve put his DNA on a database. As soon as he gets caught doing something else, it will come up.”’

But it didn’t. Instead, due to an extraordinary catalogue of police blunders — including mislaying crucial DNA evidence — her attacker was able to evade justice for 20 years.

In this time, he moved to Los Angeles, where he built a career as a music producer who could afford swanky apartments, Aston Martins and invitations to parties where he claims to have rubbed shoulders with the likes of Oscar-winning actor Leonardo Di Caprio.

But this summer, those star-studied parties ended when Pierre Antoine Bate, now 42, finally stood trial at Southwark Crown Court after the case was reopened by the Metropolitan Police’s cold case unit.

After just an hour of deliberation, the jury found him guilty on eight counts of raping Lynda.

Once he had been sentenced to 24 years in prison, jubilant police officers made much of how his conviction demonstrated their commitment to identifying and arresting such monsters ‘no matter how much time has passed’.

Try telling that to Lynda. For, until the cold case team became involved in 2011, police appeared to show woefully little interest in tracking down her attacker.

Instead, they fobbed her off, on occasion ridiculed her and even, after much of the evidence had been lost, swore blind her case ‘didn’t exist’.  In short, she was treated like a fantasist.

‘This wasn’t like an episode from an American crime series where dedicated cops battle away for years to catch the bad guys,’ she says.  ‘It was more like being caught up in a film about a conspiracy.

‘I even phoned chief of police Paul Stephenson [former Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson] in 2008 to try to get him to do something for me, and was told by the woman officer who called me back: “I’m sorry, your case doesn’t exist. There is no crime report, no DNA, no statement.”

‘I said: “What do I do now?” She said: “I don’t really know.”

‘I was at breaking point. I’d been to so many different police stations over the years, and spoken to so many different officers literally begging for help, but none of them wanted to help me.

'And now I was being told my case didn’t exist. I thought they were deliberately trying to drive me mad.

‘I was pacing the floor, literally pulling my hair out. I thought: “How am I ever going to end this?” ‘I was shaking. I could hardly breathe. I sat down and it was like an epiphany. I suddenly thought: “Oh my God — the Croydon Guardian.”’

The local newspaper had run a story shortly after the attack.

‘I thought: “However much the police say it didn’t exist, I can prove it did.” The report would have been archived in the library.

‘I pulled myself together and rang the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

A woman said: “I’m going to try to find some way to do something for you.”’

Today, Lynda has nothing but praise for the cold case team whose persistence led to Bate’s conviction.

But nothing can erase the mental anguish she suffered at the hands of other officers.

And she finds herself wondering about something Bate himself told the British court.

During his trial at Southwark Crown Court, he revealed to the jury that he had been arrested and faced charges of sexual assault and attempted murder following a particularly brutal attack on a woman in California in 2014.

The case against him was subsequently dropped, and he strenuously denies any involvement.

But instead of walking free, he was extradited to face the charges of raping Lynda as, in the meantime, police in London had identified him as her rapist.

‘Nine months before he raped me, he had sexually assaulted another woman in London.

'He was a repeat attacker who was getting more violent with each attack,’ Lynda says.

‘Perhaps there are other women out there — women who might be too embarrassed to call the police or did call them and were terrified out of their wits waiting, like I was, for their attacker to be caught.’

Indeed, this is why Lynda has bravely decided to waive the anonymity afforded to victims of sexual attacks.

She hopes her story will encourage any other victims there might be to come forward so that Bate, who is preparing an appeal against his conviction, will die in jail.

‘Knowing he’s in prison has made a big difference,’ she says. ‘But, I do believe if they’d got this guy sooner, I wouldn’t be in the state I’m in.’

Today, Lynda barely sleeps and rarely goes out. When she does go to bed, she sleeps for only a few hours with a knife beside her.

A year ago she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress syndrome but, much as she’s begged for help, she has received no counselling.

‘Fear was how it started,’ she says. ‘Now it’s a way of life. When I do go out, I get this surge in my stomach and think that I’m being watched.

‘Going to the authorities all the time, begging for help, and then being told the case didn’t even exist hasn’t helped.’

The sentence ends in tears. She breathes deeply. Collects herself.

‘When the people who are meant to help you — the police, your doctor, mental health — are looking at you as though they don’t believe you, it’s like you’re no one. 'That is how I feel, even today: that I’m nothing.’

Lynda is, in fact, a talented artist, who, at the age of 25, was simply trying to build a life for herself and her young children after an acrimonious separation from their father.

She was swimming three times a week, running every morning and preparing to study psychology at college when Bate, who was on remand for burglary at the time, began stalking her and periodically breaking into her home.

‘At first I noticed things were being moved around my house,’ Lynda says. ‘Then, one day, a photograph of me went missing from a silver frame.

‘It was weird. I’d come home and there’d be this musty smell, but there was no sign of a break-in.

‘My family thought it was my ex-partner, until one morning I opened the curtains, sat down on the sofa, looked up at the mirror and there was a face print in the glass in Vaseline.

‘This guy had put Vaseline on his face and rolled it on the mirror to get this perfect print.

'You could see a goatee, stubble and it was so high up — about 6ft — and my ex was only 5ft 6in.’

Lynda was asleep in her bedroom on that sweltering July night when she suddenly awoke around 1am to see a man crouching in her room.

So vivid is the attack, even after all this time, she unwittingly lapses into the present tense: ‘I think I’m dreaming. He’s looking out of my window but slowly turns round. Looks at me. I realise I’m not dreaming. I try to make a beeline for the door, but he takes two strides and beats me to it.

‘He grabs me and says: “I’ve got mates in with your kids.” I try to get away. He grabs this arm from behind me.’ She gestures to her right arm.

‘There’s that musty smell. I try to get away. He pushes me onto the bed. Starts raping me.

'I carry on kind of fighting, but it’s so hot and sweaty. Even when he’s trying to grab me, his hands are sliding off.

‘My brain’s racing. I’m thinking: “How do I get out of this?” Even if I get out of this room, there’s no way I’m going to run out of the house and leave my kids.

‘I’ll have to run into one of their bedrooms and put something against the door, but the other one will be vulnerable and I can’t do it. I can’t choose. I don’t think there are words that can describe . . . I’m sorry.’

She breaks off, sobbing. But after a few minutes to compose herself, Lynda is determined to continue.

‘It’s the detail that’s important,’ she says. ‘It could trigger something in someone else’s mind.

'Things like the fact he told me he was waiting for someone. He kept saying he was going.

'I’d hear the floorboards creak on the landing, then I’d see his shadow come back into the room.

‘I think it was the second or third time he came back that he blindfolded me.’

Bate raped Lynda a total of eight times during that dreadful night. She says it felt like a lifetime.

‘My biggest fear was my kids were going to walk in or find me dead. He kept putting a pillow over my head. I couldn’t breathe. I thought: “This is it. He’s going to kill me.” ’

Thankfully, Lynda survived. Bate finally left when a car pulled up outside — Lynda believes it was his friend.

‘I wasn’t sure he’d definitely gone. I heard his feet disappear, but I couldn’t hear the stairs creak.

'I thought he was in one of the kid’s rooms. I got up, checked on the kids. He wasn’t there. I grabbed a knife and a towel and dialled 999.’

Police received her call at 2.49 am and responded immediately. Lynda’s sister arrived to collect her children, while she was taken to a rape suite where she was examined and swabbed for DNA evidence.

Such was her distress that it took two days before police could take her statement.

Meanwhile, officers collected evidence from her home, including bedding, a dressing gown and a cigarette packet that bore the attacker’s fingerprint.

This crucial evidence disappeared and was never recovered. In fact, the only DNA that survived were traces of Bate’s semen that had been taken at the rape suite.

As the months and years passed without an arrest, Lynda found herself being shunted from officer to officer, police station to police station as she tried to get justice.

There was no offer of counselling and little information available about her case. ‘I spent years going through the motions of waiting for them to catch this guy.

'I’d try to put on a smile, but it was always there in my brain. I started totally changing and not being able to sleep added to it.

‘I had terrible nightmares — always about the attack and about him, going over and over in my mind like a video — but I never wanted to forget his face because when they caught him . . .’ She stops again, overcome with emotion.

In March 2008, the BBC’s Crimewatch programme featured an episode about the Minstead Rapist, a serial rapist who preyed upon and sexually assaulted more than 100 elderly women in South-East London between 1992 and 2009.

Though it transpired those offences were committed by another man, the similarities to Lynda’s case were striking.

She rang the hotline, but, as documented on that make-up packet, her repeated calls were never returned.

‘I called Police Complaints, who gave me the chief of police’s number. When the officer told me my case didn’t exist, I hit the roof.

'I don’t know if you’ve ever been so angry or shocked you can feel your adrenaline shooting through your body? That’s what I get.

‘You can’t eat. You can’t sleep. You feel completely lost. Sometimes I think: “After all these years, have they driven me mad or have I driven myself mad just trying to get this guy caught?”

‘All I can say is, thank God I remembered that newspaper report. I don’t believe they’d ever have bothered with my case if I hadn’t.’

Her scepticism is understandable because, that same year, Bate had been extradited from the U.S. to stand trial for a sexual assault he had committed in 1995.

Yet despite DNA evidence, no link was made between him and Lynda’s attacker. On his release from a 26-month jail sentence, Bate — a U.S. citizen — was free to return to his life in California.

‘When the cold case team turned up on my doorstep, I was very stand-offish. They wanted me to sign a release form for the DNA.

‘I said: “I’ve been told for years that this case doesn’t exist. Now suddenly you’re asking me to sign a release form.”

‘I was getting angrier and angrier. The officer said they’d found my statement.

‘The next time she came she said: “Do you know a guy called Pierre Bate?” I said: “No.” She said: “That’s the guy who attacked you. He’s out of the country. We are going to get him extradited.”

‘I thought: “They’re just doing this to shut me up. They’re fobbing me off again.” But she said: “Lynda, you’ve got to trust me.”’

Thanks to enhanced DNA techniques, the cold case team were able to establish with a one-in-a-billion certainty that the semen taken from Lynda’s body at the rape suite was Bate’s.

When Bate was finally brought to justice in July this year, Lynda went to court every day, despite suffering severe anxiety attacks. ‘I said to the jury: “I don’t want to be anywhere else but here. As scary as it is, I’ve fought too hard to get here.”

'It was a bit emotional. Some of the women jurors were crying.

‘Then to hear him bragging about the famous people he knew, the parties he’d been to, the life he’d led. And he kept smiling at me . . .’

She is angry now, as well she might be. ‘I’ve done 20 years in my own prison. Now, I have a chance of a new beginning.

‘But Bate is threatening to appeal, and I worry because the police mislaid so much evidence . . .

‘That’s why I hope that if there are any other women who have been attacked by him, they’ll come forward.

'Maybe their DNA evidence is sitting in the back of a fridge somewhere, like mine was. There needs to be an end to this.’

Original report here

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