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DNA breakthrough stops rapist from being released back into society

Sexual assault victim waits 33 years for justice as serial attacker returned to jail

A serial rapist “weeks away” from being freed has been returned to prison – trapped by a force’s forensic match

Christopher Clark was serving a life sentence for a separate sexual offence of assaulting a young teacher for which he was jailed in Bristol in 1997.

But detectives admitted that the 68-year-old sex attacker was coming up for a parole hearing that could have seen him released back into society when Essex Police's cold case unit made the DNA breakthrough.

That led to him being charged in January and pleading guilty last month to the knifepoint rape of a teenager in 1985.

This week, watched by his victim Yolande Kennedy from the public gallery, who waived the right to anonymity, he was sentenced at Basildon Crown Court to 13 years in custody and five on extended licence.

The Basildon court heard from Mrs Kennedy that Clark had a "traumatic" impact on her life, eventually driving her to attempt suicide.

Mrs Kennedy, who travelled to the hearing from her new home in Pensacola in the US, said detectives had not taken her claim of rape seriously at the time and even suggested her father was the perpetrator

Recorder Claire Davies told Clark: "It has come down to the advances in forensic technology that you are before the court.

"It is regrettable, to say the least, that you were not caught then, because then you went on to carry out a campaign of the most serious sexual offences for which you're serving a life sentence."

Clark targeted the victim, who was 18 at the time, as she walked to work along Clockhouse Lane, North Stifford, Essex, on September 17, 1985. He held a knife to her throat her and dragged her into a farmyard, telling her he didn’t want to hurt her.

DNA evidence was gathered at the time but no suspect was found.

Last year Clark was being held at HMP Lincoln when Essex Police’s Cold Case Investigation Team submitted forensic evidence for the 1985 attack for testing.

Developments in forensic science meant samples taken from Mrs Kennedy at the time were re-examined using more sophisticated techniques. They were then checked against the National DNA Database and found to match Clark

Detective Chief Inspector Stephen Jennings said the case had been reopened as part of a review of unsolved serious crimes, adding: "We go through them periodically and cases will either be forensic reviewed or investigated fully again.

The Essex force is not ruling out other offences that could have been committed by Clark.

Clark – dubbed the ‘Early Bird Rapist’ – was originally sentenced at the Old Bailey in 1997 to 14 years following an eight-month reign of terror in which he committed two rapes, two burglaries with intent to rape, three assaults and one indecent assault within a 15-mile radius of his home in Canvey Island, Essex.

At the time, Bath's then-Liberal Democrat MP Don Foster called on the Government to tighten up laws to prevent other high-risk sex offenders sentenced before the 1991 Criminal Justice Act came into force being released unsupervised.

Following Clark’s latest jail sentence, Mrs Kennedy said: “I have lived with this traumatic event for 33 years and I have waited all that time to confront the man who did this to me and see justice done.

“He made me feel like nobody, someone that was to be used and abused. He thought he was powerful but he has no power, I have the power and I want others to take strength from what I have been through.

“After 33 years of being silent, I want people to know what he did to me, know that justice has been done and know that if this has happened to you, you can survive it.”

DCI Jennings said that Mrs Kennedy is “an inspiration to all of us”, showing “courage beyond words”.

Praising the victim, the officer added: “She has not only in court confronted the man who raped her as a teenage girl but she has chosen to waive her anonymity in order to speak about her ordeal and offer strength to others who have been subjected to sexual offences.

“I hope, after 33 years of anguish and being haunted by what happened, that this has given her the justice she has waited for all these years.”