A team of police experts whose tenacity helped solve a 'horrific' rape case were awarded with a Chief Constable’s Commendation at Nottinghamshire Police’s annual force awards.
Detective Inspector Justine Wilson, Detective Constables Ellie Langthorne, Karl Aram and Vicki McLean, Kevin Flint, Catherine Turner, Sally Hill, Dr John Wetton, Dr Celia May, Gordon Aspden and Vickie Burgin were all awarded at the ceremony last week.
The rape, which happened in 1988 lay on the files unsolved for decades as the trail went cold.
The use of DNA testing was non-existent in terms of being used to bring criminals to justice.
So distraught was the victim – who was raped at knife point during a burglary in her home in Hyson Green – that she fled abroad and never returned to Nottingham.
In 2013, a crack team of experts was brought together led by Nottinghamshire Police officers. The unit included retired police officers, academics from University of Leicester, forensic scientists and a barrister.
Following advancements in DNA, a review was conducted and a successful partial profile was obtained.
Experts at the University of Leicester then recreated and validated the original DNA technique as it was in 1988, including contacting the original scientist and the victim to obtain her DNA profile.
The DNA evidence of the partial profile obtained of the offender was strengthened, and when searched against the national database, a number of potential suspects were identified.
Nottinghamshire’s major crime team then worked through each one to eliminate individuals from the inquiry, until they were left with just one.
Benjamin Whitehead from Nottingham was arrested, blood samples were taken and his DNA matched the profile and he was charged with aggravated burglary and rape.
Although he initially denied the charges he later pleaded guilty on the first day of his trial when he appeared before Nottingham Crown Court in November 2018.
He was just 16 when wearing a mask he entered the victim’s home and threatened to cut her throat and then raped her. 30-years later, he was jailed for nine years and 10 months.
Nottinghamshire Police’s Chief Constable Craig Guildford said: “I’d like to congratulate the team on a fantastic result.
“This was a horrific case and one where the victim had probably all but given up hope that her attacker would ever being caught. But thanks to this team of people and their persistence, and the recreation by staff at the University of Leicester of a laboratory from the 1980s to prove that the DNA would have matched then as well, this case was ultimately solved and the victim finally got the justice she deserved.
“This was a despicable crime and although nothing can be done to change what happened, I hope the actions that were taken by this team to get the result in court goes someway to helping the victim to now be able to move on with her life knowing the man who did this to her is now behind bars and will remain there for a long time.”
Accepting the award on behalf of the group, DI Justine Wilson said: “We are all really proud to receive this award. It was a really complex case and it took a lot of hard work and time.
“I’d like to thank our police colleagues, the University of Leicester, and our forensic scientists. It was a real team effort and an excellent result which we hope continues to give closure to the victim.
“It was quite the moment when we were able to tell the victim in person that we found a DNA profile of the suspect.”
She added DC Ellie Langthorne, Karl Aram and Vicky McClean also deserve recognition for the meticulous file submission and their care and professionalism with the victim and witnesses in this case. “All of this tenacious work left no road for the defendant other than to plead guilty,” she added.
"I would also like to recognise the good work by victim support who kept close contact with victim and witnesses and the co-ordination and management which facilitated in the victim flying back to the UK to give evidence at the trial.
"We have worked closely with the Crown Prosecution Service, the forensic science service provider, and the University of Leicester and it was through these good working relations that this case was successful.”
The force’s annual awards ceremony – which formally recognises the bravery, tenacity and commitment of officers and staff - was held at Nottingham’s Albert Hall on November 21.