A woman who alleges she was raped as a schoolgirl by a notorious sex killer and key suspect in the disappearance of Suzy Lamplugh is racing against time to seek justice before his potential death in prison.
Melanie Gregory, 52, has informed the police that she was abducted by John Cannan in 1981 at the age of nine and subjected to an appalling sexual assault.
She did not tell anyone about her ordeal at the time and later emigrated to Australia in the hope of putting it behind her.
‘Not enough evidence’
But now, more than 40 years later, the mother of two has waived her automatic right to anonymity and come forward in the hope of finally getting justice.
She provided West Midlands Police with details of the attack but was devastated to be told by the force there was not enough evidence to investigate further.
Cannan is serving three life sentences for the murder of Shirley Banks in Bristol in 1987, the attempted kidnapping of a woman on the previous night, the rape of his girlfriend in 1980 and a series of other abductions and sex offences.
He is also the prime suspect in the unsolved disappearance of estate agent Lamplugh in July 1986. He denies any involvement in the Lamplugh case.
With Cannan, 69, reported to be terminally ill in prison, Mrs Gregory fears he could go to his grave without ever being held responsible for the attack.
Mrs Gregory grew up in the Erdington area of Birmingham, not far from Sutton Coldfield, where Cannan lived as a young man.
She recalled how one day she had been walking from the shop where her mother worked back home when a man approached, her claiming to know her older brother. He then grabbed her and forced her into a building where he subjected her to a sustained sex attack.
She told The Telegraph: “I think he had been watching me previously. He came running up from behind and acted like I should know who he was.
“He mentioned my brother and gave me the impression he was a friend of his.
“He was wearing tight blue jeans, a burgundy leather jacket cut above the waist and that black shirt.
“He had a brown and gold belt and shoes which clicked on the pavement as he walked.
‘I was utterly terrified’
“By now I was feeling very frightened and I was aware we were approaching an overgrown gully next to the church in Goosemoor Lane and a laundry called Old Stone’s.
“The next thing I recall is being utterly terrified when he grabbed me and lifted me off my feet.
“He had his arm around my neck in a chokehold and his hand over my mouth. I could hear myself screaming though.
“He forced me into a room upstairs where there was already a mattress on the floor.
“He had these items inside ready to go including rope to tie me up. It felt very planned and premeditated.”
She said after the ordeal her attacker began coolly walking her back home but she ran ahead and banged on her front door, causing him to run off.
‘I was frozen with shock’
She described how she was so terrified by what had happened she just ran up to her bedroom and curled up into a ball.
“I was just frozen with shock and in the most immense pain,” she explained.
When her father returned home later that evening, she was still so frightened about what had happened she decided not to mention the attack and kept it bottled up for years.
She moved to Australia in 2007 for a new start, but recently came across an online article about the 1978 abduction, rape and murder of Erdington schoolgirl Candace Williams by Patrick Hassett.
Wondering if the same man could have been responsible for her rape, she began to research the case, but did not recognise Hassett.
She did, however, see a reference in the story to Cannan, who was one of the early suspects in the case.
When she looked up a picture of Cannan from the time, she claims a shiver immediately went down her spine as she remembered his distinctive looks.
She later discovered a video Cannan had recorded for a dating website and when she heard his voice and watched his mannerisms she became further convinced he was the man responsible for her attack.
There are also similarities between her ordeal and other attacks carried out by Cannan in the same area, including the 1981 rape of a shop assistant in front of her mother, for which he received an eight-year prison sentence.
Three years ago, Mrs Gregory contacted the Metropolitan Police, who passed the case to the West Midlands force. But she was rocked when detectives informed her there was nothing they could do with the information.
A West Midlands Police spokesman said: “A report was made to us last year and formally recorded.
“We have carefully considered the information provided and unfortunately we do not have enough evidence to proceed any further with an investigation.
“The complainant has been fully updated with our rationale.
“We fully understand this is not the outcome she had wished for, but we have to consider if there would be a realistic prospect of a conviction, and sadly in this case there is not.
“We do understand the complainant’s frustration at this decision and victims of rape and sexual abuse deserve the very best of our attention.
“We take every report of sexual assault extremely seriously and our public protection unit is committed to improving our service to increase convictions.”
But Mrs Gregory has said she is bitterly disappointed by the decision and has urged the police to reconsider.
She said: “We constantly hear how it is never too late to come forward and report a historic sex crime and that the victim will be believed.
“Well, clearly that is not true here. It has been a bitterly disappointing outcome and even when I appealed the decision and made a formal complaint about their conduct, none of it went anywhere.”
News last year that Cannan was receiving palliative care in prison after suffering a stroke has fuelled her determination to see him held accountable for the attack.
‘Totally bewildering decision’
Mike Brewer, a retired detective sergeant with another force who has supported Mrs Gregory throughout her case, said he was “totally bewildered” at the West Midlands decision.
He said: “By their very nature, historical cases are difficult. There’s very often no forensic evidence and it’s difficult to identify other witnesses. This is why the interview with the victim is so important.
“You need to glean every possible piece of information which can then be analysed to look for any possible corroboration and potential lines of inquiry. I was really surprised when I heard the outcome here.
“The abduction and rape of a nine-year-old child is as serious an offence as it gets.
“When it concerns such a high-profile offender, I’m amazed that it was decided not to even interview the victim. If you don’t look, you won’t find.”
Mrs Gregory said she had written to Cannan in prison to try to get him to own up to his crime.
She said: “Not surprisingly, I didn’t receive a reply. All these years he has revelled in his notoriety. I want people to know he is not just a rapist and a murderer but a child abuser too.
“I have freely waived my anonymity because I want my story to be heard.
“I want justice not just for me but for all the victims of sex abuse who are not listened to. We so rarely succeed in having our abusers held to account.”