Andrew Malkinson is still fighting to clear his name 20 years after rape case

For 17 years, Andrew Malkinson went to bed in his cell every night hoping that one day science would set him free. He was serving a life sentence for the rape of a 33-year-old woman left for dead on a Salford motorway embankment in 2003. There was never any DNA linking him to the crime, but his insistence of his innocence only trapped him in prison for longer.

This week, almost two decades after he was first arrested, science may finally have come to his aid. On Tuesday morning, Malkinson’s case was referred back to the court of appeal by the Criminal Cases Review Commission after a new DNA sample from the victim’s clothing matched a man on the national database.

Hours later, Greater Manchester police said a 48-year-old man had been arrested in Exeter last month over the rape and had been released under investigation.

Arriving on Wednesday at the east London office of the law practice Appeal, which has been fighting his case, Malkinson was greeted with hugs of celebration. He could hardly believe what was happening.

“I dreamed that they would find DNA evidence,” he said. “I hoped something would turn up that would prove I was telling the truth. But this is almost beyond my expectations.”

I first met Malkinson in a grey, windswept car park outside HMP North Sea Camp in Lincolnshire. It was December 2020 and his first taste of freedom.

He hugged his mum, Tricia, tight, whispering: “It’s all over now.” But his release was only on good behaviour and he knew that until he had a chance at overturning his conviction, his torment would not be over.

In a letter from prison, he wrote: “I cannot express fully how it feels to be falsely convicted for perhaps the worst thing a man can be accused of. I came in when I was 37, and I’ll be 55 in a little over a month. I feel by the time I have proven this case, whenever that may be, I’ll be too old to have much of a life left.”

On Tuesday, the day after celebrating his 57th birthday, he came a step closer. But the many years lost to prison still haunt him.

“I feel like there’s a huge hole in my life,” he said this week. “I got quite depressed over Christmastime. It slowly crept up on me, I fell into a darker and darker spiral, and it was horrible. It was just a feeling of mourning for the loss of what’s gone. It’s like you’ve lost somebody but it’s a part of yourself.”

As a convicted sex offender trying to tell the world he was innocent, life in prison was impossible, but he managed somehow to stay outwardly calm. “There’s lots of times where you just want to scream because you think you’re losing your mind. It’s like, this can’t be happening. But you just get through it somehow.”

At HMP Frankland in Durham, the category A prison where he spent most of his sentence, another man was murdered on his wing and Malkinson lived in fear. He had to watch as one by one, dangerous men completed their time and walked free.

If he had played the game and enrolled on a sex offender treatment course, he could have been released after less than seven years. Instead, he maintained his innocence, which kept him behind bars for another decade.

The courses centred on discussing the crime committed, which he felt unable to do. “I had no choice. You don’t want to lie and pretend you’ve done something like that, it’s too grave. It’d stick in your throat as soon as you started saying it. It’s a horrible position to be in.”

Malkinson grew up in Grimsby and spent most of his 20s and 30s backpacking and working overseas. He was on a visit to Manchester in summer 2003, and took a temporary job as a security guard in a shopping centre.

On the night of the rape, Malkinson finished his shift and slept on a colleague’s sofa. They had only known each other a few weeks and the colleague later told the court he was asleep upstairs and could not be certain that Malkinson was there all night.

A description of the rapist was released to the public, but Malkinson did not match key parts of it: he was 3in taller, had chest hair when the victim said her attacker had none, and he had prominent tattoos on his forearms but none were mentioned. She also said she remembered causing a “deep scratch” to her attacker’s right cheek, but Malkinson was seen at work with no scratches the next day.

He became a suspect after two police constables said they were reminded of him when they heard a description of the attacker. They had recently taken his details when he was pulled over riding on the back of an off-road motorbike.

After Malkinson was arrested, the victim and a witness were driven together to a late-night police video lineup, in breach of identity parade guidelines. The victim chose Malkinson but the witness initially went with another man, changing it to Malkinson only after leaving the room with a police officer.

The witness’s partner, who said he was driving with her on the night of the attack, was only called six months later and then also picked Malkinson.

In his summing up at the trial, the judge said the prosecution case hung on witness testimony and they had stressed that the witnesses were honest.

He and the jury were not told that the couple who claimed to have been able to identify Malkinson walking past their car had 16 convictions for 38 offences between them. Their criminal past was only discovered after Appeal took Greater Manchester police to court.

Since then, Appeal has also unearthed evidence that the male witness had been addicted to heroin for many years when he claimed to be able to recognise Malkinson six months after seeing him fleetingly through a windscreen at dawn.

Another witness who Malkinson had been staying with shortly before the attack was used to persuade the jury that he was an oddball who sleepwalked into their room, drank so much he urinated on the sofa and was active at night. She said in 2021 that the police threatened her and her husband with arrest at the time if they did not appear as witnesses, and that she doubted Malkinson was the rapist.

Emily Bolton, Malkinson’s lawyer and the director of Appeal, said he and the victim of the attack had been let down by the police’s handling of the case. “This is not about a victim getting it wrong,” she said. “This is about the police getting it wrong. They are the ones who made the mistake of identity.”

A GMP spokesperson would not comment on the force’s handling of the case. In a statement, they said: “Greater Manchester police will continue to assist and cooperate with the CCRC’s review of this case. Following the discovery of new DNA evidence, a full forensic review is now taking place.”

Related: New suspect arrested on suspicion of Manchester rape for which man served 17 years

Malkinson kept his mind busy in prison, studying for an Open University degree in maths and reading books on science. He would like a desk job but his conviction means he is only considered for what he calls the “leftovers” at the jobcentre, “the hard dirty work that no one really wants to do”.

On Monday, he will have his usual weekly meeting with probation and face interrogation about his personal life. He recently moved house and at a meeting with a new police liaison officer he was asked “invasive and oppressive” questions about how often he masturbated and whether he saw sex workers.

Malkinson’s mum, Tricia, 76, was delighted when Malkinson gave her the latest news about his case, but her joy quickly turned to anger. She will not be happy until the law stops classing her son as a sex offender.

“I don’t think it’ll really feel different until he’s got his name cleared,” she said, “because at the minute, we’re still in limbo, aren’t we? Andrew is a free man, yes, but he’s not a free man, is he? He’s still got that conviction hanging over his head.”