Release of man convicted of raping Stratford woman may be reviewed after family not notified of decision

Wendell Baker

Wendell Baker - Credit: Archant

The decision to release a convicted rapist from jail could be reviewed after it emerged the victim’s family wasn’t told about it.

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

Wendell Baker was sentenced to life in July 2013 for beating and raping Hazel Backwell in the bedroom of her home in Litchfield Avenue, Stratford following a change in the law allowing retrials of suspects in certain cases.

Lawyers at the time said Baker would never have been brought to justice for attacking the 66-year-old in January 1997 had it not been for the double jeopardy law.

Baker, who was from Walthamstow, was told in 2013 he would serve at least 10 years and six months before being considered for parole. His minimum term was later reduced by two years.

In May it was announced Baker had been deemed suitable for release by the Parole Board. However, BBC News reported on June 5 that Mrs Backwell’s relatives only heard about it from a journalist.

The BBC reported that the family was told in 2013 they would be notified before Baker was up for release. Daughter in law Margaret Backwell described the news of the Parole Board’s decision as “a total and utter shock”.

A Ministry of Justice (MoJ) spokesperson said: “This was a despicable crime and we apologise that Mrs Backwell’s family found out in this way. We know this was distressing and it should not have happened.”

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He added the MoJ is updating the Victims Code to ensure victims are automatically referred to the National Probation Service (NPS) by the police to reduce the chances of it happening again.

The Lord Chancellor has requested the Parole Board reconsider its decision.

Sources in government said a police victim liaison officer overlooked passing on the contact details of Mrs Backwell’s next of kin to the NPS following the 2013 retrial. Mrs Backwell died aged 72 in 2002.

The NPS tried to find the family but efforts were unsuccessful until after the decision was made public.

The board is to decide whether the threshold is met to formally reconsider the decision.

Baker had been acquitted in 1999, but his retrial was secured after a DNA match surfaced.

The family said in a statement at the end of the Old Bailey retrial: “My mother sadly passed away lonely, with a broken heart and a shadow of her former self and was never able to see the man who caused her so much pain jailed for what he did. Justice has definitely been served.”