In March 2004, a judge at Maidstone Crown Court sentenced Antoni Imiela, a 49-year-old Briton of German and Polish origin to seven life sentences for the rape of seven women and girls aged 10 to 52 in Kent, Surrey, London and Hertfordshire, with a further 29 years for the kidnap, indecent assault, and attempted rape of a 10-year old girl in Birmingham. As most of the crimes took place around London and the Home Counties, the press named him the ‘M25 Rapist’.
Imiela’s convictions were based on evidence from the women and girls, and on forensic evidence from a number of disciplines.
According to the Forensic Science Service, the search for Imiela was the biggest linked police enquiry since the hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper.
The first attack was in November 2001, when a 10-year-old girl was kidnapped from outside a community centre in Ashford, Kent, and taken to woodland and raped. The forensic analysis began with a profile of DNA samples taken from the rape victim. DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is genetic material, identical in every cell in the body in all but very rare cases. DNA profiling, developed in the 1980s by a British geneticist, Sir Alec Jeffreys, is very accurate and likelihood of misidentification, though technically possible, is uncommon.
When scientists compared Imiela’s profile with the one taken from the child, there was no match with either the national DNA database or samples taken from 2,000 local men.
The next attack, in July 2002, was of a 30-year-old woman who was raped in Earlswood, in Surrey.
The forensic scientists used a technique developed by the Forensic Science Service called low copy number (LCN) DNA profiling. This creates a DNA profile from a very small amount of starting material – perhaps just from a few cells. These fragments of DNA matched the ones in the first case.
Following the rapes of a 26-year-old woman on Putney Common in London on the same day in July 2002, a 52-year-old woman on Wimbledon Common, London in August 2002, and a 26-year-old woman in Epsom, Surrey, also in August 2002, the forensic scientists screened the DNA of 1000 men but could not find any matches.
In October 2002, the rapist abducted a 14-year-old girl in Stevenage (Hertfordshire) and raped her at knifepoint. The girl was able to provide a description of her attacker. Following a release of the description, and anonymous caller gave the police a tip-off and Imiela came in to provide a DNA sample.
Two days after this, in November 2002, he abducted and indecently assaulted a 10-year-old girl in Birmingham. Forensic scientists found hairs in Imiela’s car with DNA matching that of the 10-year old girl.
Imiela’s DNA sample matched the DNA from the first rape, and the police arrested him in December 2002.
Forensic scientists found a number of brightly coloured fibres on the victim’s clothes, which may have come from Imiela – this is called ‘secondary transfer’. Long and careful study found that these matched fibres from jackets worn by rail workers (Imiela worked on the railways) and even the curtains in Imiela’s home.
Evidence from use of mobile phones and bankcards put Imiela in the same areas as the rapes. Imiela had used a victim’s bag as a pillow during one rape and this had his fingerprint on it.
Imiela claimed that he was innocent, and that the DNA evidence was a mistake and the fingerprint was a fabrication.
Overall, more than 100 people from five Forensic Science Service laboratories, including scientists and support staff, worked on the Imiela case, and processed DNA samples from more than 3500 men.