DNA could have caught Plymouth rapist over a decade ago, says ex-cop
A FORMER detective in charge of the manhunt for rapist Shaun Harrison has criticised Devon and Cornwall Police over potential DNA mistakes.
Stewart Butler, a retired Detective Sergeant, told The Herald that Harrison should have been picked up over a decade ago.
As reported in The Herald, the 46-year-old was this week jailed for two rapes in 1989 and 1995.
But his DNA was added to the National DNA Database – launched in 1995 – for a driving offence in 2000.
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Harrison was eventually arrested and charged in January 2011 following a bizarre and false confession by another man.
Harrison, from Orchard Road, North Prospect, was jailed for a total of 12 years for the September 1989 rape of a teenage girl in Eastlake Street and the rape of another woman outside a city nightclub in 1995.
The case was referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) by Devon and Cornwall Police in June 2011.
Mr Butler said he was surprised Devon and Cornwall Police had said the re-investigation was as a result of a "cold case review", and not a remarkable piece of luck.
The ex-detective said he was contacted by investigators who had returned to the case in late 2010 following a peculiar visit.
Mr Butler said he was told by a detective that a man had approached Devonport police claiming he had had a plate put in his head as a result of an accident, and it was telling him to confess to the rape of a young woman in the city centre in the late 1980s.
The detective checked the police's central registry archive for the years either side and found several boxes of files labelled "Rape - Old Town Street".
However, Mr Butler said he was told the DNA swab taken from the confessor was not a match for the DNA taken from the victim's dress in 1989. It was, however, a perfect match for Shaun Harrison's 2000 sample.
At his trial – which The Herald could not report on at the time due to a court order – the jury was told by prosecuting barrister Sean Brunton that Harrison's DNA was put on the National DNA Database in late 2000 after he was arrested for a driving offence.
But Mr Butler said he could not understand why that did not alert police to the rapist's identity.
He said: "DNA was very much a large part of our investigations back in 1989. This was not the only rape case I investigated where DNA was used and people were charged and found guilty in court.
"I retired in 1996 and I always knew that this suspect would come up again."
Mr Butler said the case had preyed on his mind for years.
"As soon as the officer called me saying he wanted to speak to me about an old case, I knew which one," he said. "Fortunately, when a barrister was asked to review the original case files, I was told they found it to be 'exemplary', which made a much stronger case against Harrison.
"We had covered everything, every CCTV camera, every possible witness, we had even gone to BBC's Crimewatch.
"When the detective told me Harrison had a previous conviction, I couldn't understand why he hadn't been picked up.
"Ever since I was told of Harrison's arrest, I've been concerned about what has gone wrong.
"Something is not right. Did it [Harrison's first DNA sample from 1989] go on the National DNA Database or not? If it did, why wasn't Harrison caught in 2000? If it didn't, then why not?
"It means this rapist was able to remain free to target other women.
"If this has happened once with Devon and Cornwall Police, then how many other times has it happened, and has it happened with any other forces?"
Mr Butler said he hoped the IPCC report – which is expected to be published in the next two weeks – will provide answers.
"Despite this, I'm absolutely delighted that even after 23 years this man has been found guilty and sentenced," he added.
The Herald has learned that Harrison was convicted of another offence in 2005, but was not forced to give a DNA sample.
A spokesman for Devon and Cornwall Police said the force was unable to comment on questions regarding Harrison's DNA samples until the completion of the IPCC's investigation.