A man who carried out a string of sex attacks on 11 women and children across England over two weeks has been found guilty of 37 offences.
Joseph McCann’s victims were aged between 11 and 71 and included three women who were abducted off the street at knifepoint and repeatedly raped.
The 34-year-old also tricked his way into a woman’s home before tying her up and molesting her son and daughter.
McCann, of Harrow, was found guilty of offences including rape and kidnap.
The convicted burglar had been released from prison following a probation error in February before he embarked on a cocaine and vodka-fuelled rampage.
McCann’s “spree of sex attacks” started in Watford before moving to London, Greater Manchester and Cheshire over two weeks in April and May.
Hundreds of officers from five forces were deployed in the manhunt before he was finally caught while hiding in a tree.
Det Ch Insp Katherine Goodwin, who led the investigation, described him as “one of the most dangerous sex offenders the country has ever seen”.
Jo Farrar, chief executive of HM Prisons and Probation Service, “apologised unreservedly” for “failings” which led to McCann being released early, adding that “strong and immediate action” had been taken against those involved.
It can now be reported that four men and two women have been arrested on suspicion of assisting McCann while he was on the run from police following the initial attacks in London.
They have been released under investigation.
On 21 April, McCann grabbed a 21-year-old woman at knifepoint as she walked home from a nightclub in Watford.
She was bundled into a car and taken to a house where she was raped until being released later that morning.
Four days later, a 25-year-old woman was abducted as she walked home in Walthamstow, east London, just after midnight.
She was driven off in a car then repeatedly raped in a number of locations over 14 hours, including outside a school where McCann told her he “wanted to make her rape a child”.
Later the same day, and while still holding the woman prisoner, he snatched a 21-year-old woman in Edgware, north London, as she walked along the street with her sister. She suffered a similar fate to the 25-year-old woman.
The pair finally managed to escape when McCann drove to Watford, where he had booked a hotel room, and one of them hit him over the head with a vodka bottle before they fled to get help.
In the early hours of 5 May, McCann tricked his way into the home of a woman he had met in a bar in Greater Manchester.
Once inside, he tied her to a bed and molested her 11-year-old son and 17-year-old daughter, who he told “you are going to Europe tomorrow, you are mine”.
The girl, who said she feared becoming a “sex slave”, managed to escape by jumping naked from a window and alerted police.
At about 13:30 the same day, he pounced on a 71-year-old woman while she was loading shopping into her car outside a supermarket and abducted and raped her.
Three hours later he also abducted and assaulted a 13-year-old girl in the same car before both managed to get away at Knutsford service station.
At about 18:30 on 5 May, McCann abducted two 14-year-old girls after threatening to “chop them up with a machete”.
He was filmed at a garage buying condoms but was spotted by a police patrol who pursued him while the girls were inside the car.
After crashing into a Mercedes, he fled on foot, then caught a taxi.
The car was stopped at a police road block but he fled across a field and was finally caught in the early hours of 6 May.
The 12 jurors decided the fate of Joseph McCann without ever seeing him in the dock. Only once did he leave his prison cell for the Old Bailey – and that was to answer questions from the judge when the jury wasn’t there.
McCann opted out of court proceedings from the moment he was charged in May, refusing to appear before chief magistrate Emma Arbuthnot.
Instead, in an unprecedented move, she travelled to Belmarsh Prison and convened the hearing there.
Before and during the trial, hours were wasted waiting for updates about McCann, with barristers and the judge in almost daily discussions about whether he would turn up and why he had not.
Letters were sent to his cell and prison officers were called to give evidence by videolink to confirm he had received them.
At one stage, McCann requested a four-week adjournment because he hadn’t had enough sleep.
Even towards the end, with the prosecution case nearly completed, the jury was kept waiting while McCann weighed up whether he was going to go in the witness box.
There were concerns about his health – he didn’t eat for days and threatened suicide – but the court’s main preoccupation was ensuring he had a fair trial and understood the process even though he chose to be absent from it.
However, in the face of overwhelming evidence, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that McCann was playing the system because that was the only option left open to him.
Scotland Yard believe McCann used contacts across the country to evade justice as he moved across five police force areas.
However, it has been revealed police forces involved in the hunt for McCann failed to share information, meaning he was not identified earlier.
On his arrest, McCann even told officers: “If you had caught me for the first two, the rest of this wouldn’t have happened.”
Hertfordshire Constabulary identified him the day after the first attack in Watford and added his name to the police national computer.
But the Met did not identify McCann as being involved in the two London attacks until 28 April after a call from a member of the public, despite them liaising with their Hertfordshire counterparts on 25 April.
McCann, who is facing a life sentence, is due to be sentenced on Monday.
After the verdicts were reached, the jury sent a note to the judge saying they wished to acknowledge the bravery of the victims and the hard work of the police forces involved.
The 34-year-old never appeared in court during the trial but was convicted of:
- Ten counts of false imprisonment
- Seven counts of rape
- One count of rape of a child
- Two counts of causing or inciting a person to engage in sexual activity without consent
- Seven counts of kidnap
- One count of attempted kidnap
- Three counts of causing or inciting a child under 13 to engage in sexual activity
- Three counts of assault by penetration
- One count of sexual assault
- Two counts of committing a sexual offence with intent