Wendell Baker: 'Double jeopardy' pensioner rapist cleared for release

Wendell Baker
Image caption,
Wendell Baker was jailed for life in 2013 after attacking 66-year-old Hazel Backwell and locking her in a cupboard.

A man convicted of beating and raping a pensioner has been cleared for release from prison by the Parole Board.

Wendell Baker was given a life sentence in 2013 for attacking 66-year-old Hazel Backwell and locking her in a cupboard.

He was ordered to spend at least 10 and a half years in prison, following a second trial allowed under new double jeopardy laws. His minimum term was later reduced by two years.

On Friday the Parole Board said Baker "was suitable for release".

But he "will be on licence for the rest of his life", a Ministry of Justice (MoJ) spokesman added.

Baker, now 63, beat and raped Mrs Backwell at her home in Stratford, east London, in 1997.

During the court case it was heard that Ms Backwell was found by chance by a neighbour the following evening after Baker locked her in a cupboard.

The attack left her too afraid to continue living alone or go out by herself and she died in 2002 "with a very sad and broken heart", her family said.

Image source, Metropolitan Police
Image caption,
Hazel Backwell was left too afraid to live alone, following the attack

Baker was found not guilty in 1999 when a judge wrongly ruled his trial could not proceed.

The introduction of the double jeopardy law in 2005 allowed a person cleared of a serious offence to face a retrial in certain circumstances.

A review in 2007 found much of the evidence had been lost or destroyed, and the case was reopened two years later.

Baker, from Walthamstow, north-east London, was arrested in 2011.

The trial of Wendell Baker was one of the most disturbing I've reported on.

The brutal nature of the attack was distressing enough, but it was compounded by Baker's failure to show any remorse.

His defence to the overwhelming scientific evidence against him was that police had planted semen from a used condom.

A judicial error in 1999 and the later loss of vital police case-files meant Baker almost escaped justice.

It must be galling, therefore, for those who worked so hard to secure his conviction that he's being let out at the first time of asking.

He gave further DNA samples matching those found on swabs taken from Mrs Backwell.

In 2014, Baker had his minimum jail term reduced by two years.

He became eligible to be considered for release on 15 March.

The Parole Board, which held a remote hearing to consider the case, said Baker would be subject to strict licence conditions including a curfew and an "enhanced form of supervision or monitoring", once released.

A spokesman for the Parole Board said: "Parole Board decisions are solely focused on what risk a prisoner could represent to the public after release and whether that risk is manageable in the community.

"We do that with great care and public safety is our number one priority."

The MoJ said: "Like all life sentence prisoners released by the independent Parole Board, Wendell Baker will be on licence for the rest of his life and subject to strict conditions - and faces a return to prison if he fails to comply."