Man who beat and raped pensioner in ‘terrifying ordeal’ to be freed from prison

·3-min read

A man who beat and raped a pensioner is to be freed from prison after the Parole Board cleared him for release.

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

He 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.”

Ms Backwell, who died in 2002, suffered a “terrifying ordeal” when Baker broke into her home in Stratford, east London, as she slept in January 1997.

Man jailed for life for 1997 rape
Hazel Backwell was attacked by Wendell Baker in 1997 (Metropolitan Police/PA)

He tied her 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, making it eight years and six months before he could be considered for parole.

A report on the decision granting his release said at the time of the offence Baker had a “tendency to resort to violence and the use of weapons, being violent to a partner, alcohol misuse and using illegal drugs, not being able to control extreme emotions, being influenced by anti-social friends, not having anywhere suitable to live and not thinking about what will happen as a result of his actions.

“Evidence was presented at the hearing regarding Mr Baker’s progress and custodial conduct during this sentence.

“He had completed training courses which addressed drugs misuse and better ways of thinking as well as a range of vocational courses.

“The panel heard how Mr Baker had demonstrated some application of relevant skills and learning while in custody. Witnesses recommended release.”

A Parole Board spokesman said: “We can confirm that a panel of the Parole Board has directed the release of Wendell Baker following an oral hearing.

“Parole Board decisions are solely focused on what risk a prisoner could represent to the public after release and whether that risk is manageable in the community.

“The panel will have carefully looked at a whole range of evidence, including details of the original case, and any evidence of behaviour change.

“We do that with great care and public safety is our number one priority.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesman added: “This was a despicable crime and our deepest sympathies remain with the victims’ family and friends.

“Like all life sentence prisoners released by the independent Parole Board, Wendell Baker will be on licence for the rest of his life and subject to strict conditions – and faces a return to prison if he fails to comply.”

As part of the terms of his licence, he must live at a specified address, demonstrate good behaviour, report for probation supervision and abide by a curfew.

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