Joseph McCann: Serial rapist who attacked women and children in kidnapping spree sentenced to life in prison

McCann has been found guilty at the Old Bailey of 37 counts relating to 11 women and children, including rape, kidnap and false imprisonment: PA
McCann has been found guilty at the Old Bailey of 37 counts relating to 11 women and children, including rape, kidnap and false imprisonment: PA

A man who attacked 11 women and children in a campaign of rape and kidnap has been jailed for life.

Joseph McCann, 34, sparked a nationwide manhunt as he launched a two-week rampage across London, Hertfordshire and northwest England earlier this year.

He attacked victims aged between 11 and 71 in what police described as an “unprecedented” campaign of rape, kidnap and false imprisonment.

In some cases, McCann snatched women off the street and threatened them with a knife, while in others he used false pretences to lure victims into his car.

The rapist had been freed from prison by mistake in February, and police arrested the wrong man as a suspect for one of his attacks as he remained on the run in May.

McCann was eventually tracked down by police after attempting to evade capture by climbing up a tree.

Mr Justice Edis handed him 33 life sentences with a minimum term of 30 years on Monday, saying the case was a “campaign of rape, violence and abduction of a kind which I have never seen or heard of before”.

The judge called for an independent investigation into how the system “failed to protect” McCann’s victims.

Addressing McCann in his absence, he added: “You are very dangerous indeed to people who are weaker then you are.

“Among other things you are a coward, a violent bully and a paedophile.

“Your grip on reality is quite tenuous, your instructions to lawyers were utterly ridiculous.

“You are entirely obsessed with yourself. In your world other people exist only for your pleasure and you have no ability to see the world in anybody’s eyes other than your own. You are a classic psychopath.”

The court heard that McCann had a string of convictions in the north west and south east of England, having received his first term behind bars at the age of 15.

While he had no convictions for sexual offences, he did have a “history of violence and threats towards partners of his”, prosecutor John Price QC said.

McCann’s previous crimes included escaping custody by grabbing and threatening a female security guard with a plastic knife, possessing a blade, robbery and two burglaries.

Since his release in February, McCann was seen by probation officers 10 times.

The last occasion was on 19 April, three days before he committed his first rape.

A probation officer said McCann had attended the Watford probation office where he was served with a warning for failing to disclose a new relationship, under the terms of his licence because of his history of domestic violence.

McCann was “not happy” about it and when his new fiancee’s parents found out about the condition they broke off the relationship because they thought he was a sex offender.

He denied all 37 charges against him, but refused to attend court and did not give evidence in his own defence.

A jury found him guilty of all offences on Friday following a trial at the Old Bailey.

Four men and two women have been arrested on suspicion of assisting McCann while he was on the run from the police.

McCann’s first victim was a 21-year-old woman kidnapped at knifepoint as she walked home from a Watford nightclub on 21 April.

The woman said he drove around and told her she had to “join the firm”, before taking her back to her flat, where he raped her in bed.

He gave his name as Joel McCann and the victim passed the information to Hertfordshire Police, who uncovered his real identity hours later.

McCann’s details, including the Ford Mondeo car used in the kidnap, were shared on the Police National Computer the same day.

But McCann was not traced, and four days later he struck again in north London, where he kidnapped two women 12 hours apart.

Joseph McCann at a Morrisons in Greater Manchester, where he abducted a 71-year-old woman (PA)
Joseph McCann at a Morrisons in Greater Manchester, where he abducted a 71-year-old woman (PA)

The victims, aged 21 and 25, were raped and forced to engage in sex acts with each other before they managed to escape with the help of local builders in Watford.

Police launched a nationwide manhunt after identifying McCann on 28 April, but he remained at large and resumed his spree in northwest England 10 days later.

In a 21-hour period on 5 May, he is accused of attacking a family, a pensioner and two teenage girls.

Prosecutors said he conned his way into a mother’s home in Lancashire, tied her to a bed and raped her 17-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son.

By 1pm that day, local police had arrested an innocent man and while they had the wrong suspect in custody, McCann continued his rampage.

He attacked a 71-year-old woman at a Morrison’s car park in Bury and raped her as part of the “shocking and depraved” rampage.

McCann made off in the pensioner’s Fiat, which he used to snatch two 14-year-old girls.

He was penned in by roadblocks in Congleton, Cheshire, after trying to flee from police in a car and by a stolen bicycle.

After being stopped in a taxi, he ran into fields and climbed a tree, where he was brought down and arrested after several hours.

McCann initially claimed the two girls in the car he had been driving had “wanted a lift”, but later told a police officer: “If you had caught me for the first two, the rest of this wouldn’t have happened.”

Detective Chief Inspector Katherine Goodwin, who led the investigation, said McCann’s refusal to speak to police meant his motivations were unknown.

“We’ve never been able to get a true understanding of what his motivation was, what kind of man he is and to understand what drove him to commit these horrific crimes,” she added.

CCTV screengrab of Joseph McCann being pursued by police just before being arrested (PA)
CCTV screengrab of Joseph McCann being pursued by police just before being arrested (PA)

“To plead not guilty against the weight of such evidence, draw out the process in court as much as possible and forcing his brave victims to give evidence, shows his contempt for them.

“He clearly is a horrendously dangerous individual.”

Senior crown prosecutor Tetteh Turkson said McCann “behaved with shocking depravity”.

“It was through persistence and bravery that some of his victims managed to escape,” he added. “They showed great strength of character in recounting their stories to police and giving evidence to the court; reliving some of what must have been the darkest moments of their lives.”

McCann was convicted of 10 counts of false imprisonment, seven counts of rape, one count of rape of a child and two counts of causing or inciting a person to engage in sexual activity without consent.

He was also found guilty of 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 and two counts of committing a sexual offence with intent.

Following the verdicts, the Probation Service issued an “unreserved” apology for a blunder which led to McCann’s release in February, halfway through a three-year sentence for burglary.

A probation officer was demoted after a Ministry of Justice review found McCann should have been immediately recalled to jail for an earlier offence.

Four men and two women have been arrested on suspicion of assisting McCann, and released under investigation.

Additional reporting by PA

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