Parole Board rejects calls to keep man convicted of raping Stratford woman behind bars

Wendell Baker

Wendell Baker - Credit: Archant

The Parole Board has rejected calls to keep a man who beat and raped a pensioner behind bars.

Hazel Blackwell died before her attacker was brought to justice. Picture: Metropolitan Police

Hazel Blackwell died before her attacker was brought to justice. Picture: Metropolitan Police - Credit: Archant

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland intervened after the panel decided to free Wendell Baker.

Now 63, Mr Baker was jailed for life in 2013 after being convicted at a retrial under double jeopardy laws.

In a statement, a Parole Board spokesman confirmed it had upheld its original decision to clear Mr Baker for release, insisting the ruling was a “rational one”.

Baker was previously acquitted of attacking 66-year-old Hazel Backwell, but was put on trial again after a DNA match was found “in the order of one in a billion”.

The court heard Hazel Backwell, who died in 2002, suffered a “terrifying ordeal” when Mr Baker broke into her home in Litchfield Avenue, Stratford as she slept in January 1997.

Using a relatively new process which allows the Justice Secretary or the prisoner in question to ask for such decisions to be reconsidered, Government officials had argued that the finding of clearance for release was irrational, saying it was not borne out by the evidence put before the panel.

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Now the board has reviewed the decision, Baker will be freed unless the victim’s family decides to launch a judicial review.

In a document detailing the decision, retired High Court judge John Saunders said: “Although the respondent had committed a very serious offence which he continues to deny, the law is clear that such denial in itself does not mean that it was irrational to direct his release per se.

“The panel considered all the evidence, including this issue, and reached a conclusion which was open to them.

“Accordingly, I do not consider that the decision was irrational and the application for reconsideration is refused.”

A Parole Board spokesman said the senior judge “found that the decision of the original panel was a rational one”, adding: “As made clear in the reconsideration decision, release was supported by the Secretary of State’s officials during Mr Baker’s review and the Secretary of State had also made no objection to the parole hearing taking place remotely, until after the outcome of the hearing was known.”

Baker tied his victim’s hands behind her back with flex, beat and raped her, then ransacked her house before leaving her bound and trapped in a cupboard.

She felt like she had been left to die, but was by chance found by a neighbour the next evening, the court heard.

The attack left her too afraid to continue living alone or go out by herself and she “died with a very sad and broken heart”, her family said at the time of the case.

A change in the law in 2005 allowed a person cleared of a serious offence to face retrial in certain circumstances, but when the case was reviewed in 2007, it was found that much of the evidence had been lost or destroyed.

The case was reopened in 2009 and Baker was arrested in 2011.

Jamaican-born Baker denied the attack, telling the court he had been framed by police, whom he claimed had hounded him for years.

He had been in and out of prison since the 1970s for a string of offences including burglary, theft and actual bodily harm.

His minimum jail term was later cut by two years on appeal to eight years and six months.

He became eligible for parole in March, some seven years after being sentenced, because the minimum term took into account the time he had already spent in custody on remand while awaiting trial.