The rapist who made the sign of the cross after every attack

A suspected sex killer  known as the ‘The Southwark Rapist’  will die in jail for carrying out four brutal attacks on elderly women.

Michael Roberts, 45, subjected his terrified victims to horrific ordeals during a series of violent burglaries in south London in the late 1980s.

At the time, the crimes sparked nationwide outrage and mass media coverage but Roberts eluded capture.

He has also been nicknamed ‘The Praying Rapist’ after crossing himself and uttering the words from the Roman Catholic prayer for the dead during one attack.

Police only identified him after a cold case review in 2005 because he had given a DNA sample after attacking an elderly man in his own home.

A jury at Southwark Crown Court unanimously convicted Roberts of three rapes and the brutal beating of a fourth victim following a short trial last month.

Although Roberts was only tried for four attacks, the Southwark Rapist has been blamed for other similar crimes during the same period, including the rape and murder of 68-year-old Irene Grainey.

The grandmother was sexually attacked and stabbed to death with a kitchen knife on May 31, 1990.

Her body lay undiscovered for six weeks at her council maisonette in Eugenia Road, in Rotherhithe, May 31, 1990.

After the jury delivered its verdicts the court heard Roberts had been linked to two other violent attacks on victims aged 68 and 78 in 1989.

But the murder of Mrs Grainey remained unsolved.

Judge Stephen Robbins, likening the case to the case of ‘Night Stalker’ Delroy Grant and said: ‘Your depravity knows no bounds.

‘These are very grave offences.

‘The victims of your offences were all elderly.

‘You broke into their houses and in the middle of the night.

‘You then proceeded to submit them to humiliating and degrading sexual attacks and, unlike Delroy Grant, your offences are aggravated and marked by terrible violence.

‘I’m quite satisfied that you are a danger to society therefore I do sentence you to imprisonment for the rest if your natural life.’

The sentence makes Roberts, who appeared in the dock wearing light beige trousers and a black shirt, only the second person to be given a ‘whole life’ tariff in the UK for offences attracting a discretionary life sentence.

After the sentence was read out Roberts said: ‘I will only say this my lord, I am absolutely not guilty and I will…’ before he was dragged from the dock by prison guards.

Roberts struck for the first time on Boxing Day 1988, breaking into the home of a 57-year-old woman in Redman House, Lant Street, Southwark – 800 yards from his then home in Gaywood Street.
The woman was a virgin who had mobility problems.

He beat her up and raped her before escaping with £75 and six packets of cigarettes.

On September 11 the following year, Roberts attacked a 77-year-old who lived in the same building in Lant Street.

The pensioner was also a virgin and had difficulty getting around.

Roberts raped her and stole £5 and lose change before he left the flat.

On October 7 1989, Roberts, he into the home of a 66-year-old woman in Robert Bell House, Rotherhithe and raped her, before stealing two purses containing £30 in cash and a bank card.

Between February 28 and 2 March 1990, he burgled the home of an 83-year-old woman in John McKenna Walk, Keetons Estate, Rotherhithe, beating her up severely and stealing her pension book and bank card as well as a handbag.

The addresses of the third and fourth victims were within 300 yards of his address at the time in St James’ Road.

Roberts had hidden a distinctive scar on his forehead by wearing his hair in a floppy fringe and warning the victims not to look at his face.

But other features gave him away, including his back, which one of the women accurately said was covered in brown marks and moles, and his clothing, including a dirty green tracksuit.

His fourth victim was so badly beaten that she remembered nothing about her attacker,

Roberts confessed that assault to his girlfriend at the time after hearing it reported on the radio, the jury heard.

Meanwhile police gathered DNA samples from three of the crime scenes, which they were to link to Roberts following a later arrest for a violent robbery.

Material recovered from the attacker’s semen and saliva from cigarettes he smoked only provided ‘partial’ matches to Roberts’ profile, with a one in 79,000 chance that it did not come from him in
one sample down to as much as a one in 16 chance in another.

But prosecutor Allison Hunter said all the evidence taken together, with partial matches found at three different scenes, alongside the visual identifications, the confession to his girlfriend and other circumstantial evidence, the jury could be sure he was the attacker.

Roberts lived within a few hundred yards of all four victims, and staked out their homes prior to the attacks.

He chose elderly woman living alone in ground floor flats, and attacked them in their homes late at night before making off with small amounts of cash and jewellery.

His victims described how he smelled strongly of alcohol, and told one of them he had been at the pub
before the attack.

The jury heard evidence from the two women Roberts lived with during the period of the attacks – Julie Warner and Leanne Ward.

He had been violent to both women, and Miss Ward described in a statement how he was a petty criminal who would often return home late at night with handbags he had stolen.

She told the court he used to scan newspapers for coverage of his exploits, believing at the time that he was referring to lesser crimes.

Miss Ward also said she remembered he owned a pale green tracksuit similar to that described by one of the victims.

Miss Warner said that after hearing about the fourth attack on the radio, the savage beating of an 83-year-old woman, he told her: ‘I did that, but I didn’t rape her.’

Although he did not give evidence during the trial, Roberts’ barrister Ali Bajwa, QC, told the jury in his closing speech that the Crown had not produced enough evidence to prove he had committed the offences.

The lawyer today said that Roberts still refuses to accept any responsibility for the attacks but added: ‘We concede, and that includes Michael Roberts, the terrible seriousness of the offences.’

Roberts, formerly of St James’ Road, Rotherhithe, was convicted of three counts of rape, four counts of burglary, two counts of indecent assault, two counts of inflicting grievous bodily harm with intent, and one count of buggery.