TV | The Real Manhunt: The Night Stalker
"Put yourself in the position of a victim in their 80s alone at home at night. Once they had turned all the lights off and gone to bed he would gain entry. Once inside the premises, he’d make the property into a complete darkness and eventually approach the victim. And he dominated them."
- former SIO Simon Morgan
This new documentary following in the footsteps of ITV drama Manhunt features Susanna Reid delving into Operation Minstead to gain a vivid insight into the 17-year hunt for the serial rapist known as ‘The Night Stalker’ - and how a 17-day stakeout led to his arrest.
Former senior investigating officers Colin Sutton and Simon Morgan, along with former Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers, speak candidly to Susanna about one of the most complex investigations the Met has ever had to face, and reflect on the tragic mistake that meant Delroy Grant could have been stopped years earlier.
The documentary goes back to the Night Stalker’s first attack in 1992 and follows the investigation as dozens of suspected cases started to emerge. Meanwhile, elderly people in South London were terrified, especially when in 2009, there was a huge spike in offences and the Met’s hierarchy agreed to stage a huge stakeout in the hope that this time they would catch him in the act.
The programme speaks to officers involved as the cat-and-mouse game they undertook escalated with several near misses before he was finally brought to justice.
Starting with an attack in Shirley near Croydon in 1992, Grant was eventually convicted of 22 offences of rape, indecent assault and burglary. But he is suspected of committing hundreds of offences in a spree that spanned nearly two decades.
His modus operandi - being forensically-aware and across the police's surveillance techniques - marked him out as a very difficult criminal to catch. Julia Balfour, a detective constable on the case, says: "He appeared to wear gloves, he appeared to wear a mask and there was very little evidence and very few lines of inquiry, really, for the police to follow."
Because of the age of the victims, it was difficult to raise the profile of the case, says former senior investigating officer Simon Morgan, to appeal for help from the public: "There was a particular journalist who said. 'Look, to be brutally honest, when you sit down for your breakfast, cornflakes and you open up the paper, you do not want to read about that.'"
By 2004, police had held the Night Stalker's DNA for 12 years, but had failed to find a match on the national database. So Simon decided on a controversial course of action - after profiling the material, a DNA sweep of Black men in that area of South London was undertaken. Simon says: "You have to go where the evidence takes you. The DNA analysis says he's a Black man – you cannot get away from that. People would criticise the police and criticise the way we were targeting the Black community, But very few people spoke out for the elderly community."
Leroy Logan from the Black Police Association says: "I know that Operation Minstead has done damage, definitely, to the Black community. That, for me, was totally based on racially profiling."
Yet after this, officers seemed no closer to arresting the man responsible. Journalist Jeff Edwards says: "I started to think, you know, maybe this is going to be one of these cases where we never get a resolution to this, it will remain a mystery forever more."
In 2009, the attacks rose to new prolific levels, when 16 attacks were reported in just 19 days. The Met called in the detective chief inspector who had just caught Levi Bellfield, the killer of Milly Dowler - Colin Sutton - and asked him to take a fresh look at the case. Months later, the police decided on a radical plan - a stakeout focusing on the attacker’s favourite hunting stalking grounds. Yet with offences scattered all over South London, the area to cover was impossibly large. Colin says: "One hundred and sixty square miles, it’s about 2.5 million people living in that area, in kind of dense urban housing. I mean trying to find one man in that area is extremely difficult."
The team made a breakthrough when they spotted what they identified as the rapist's car on CCTV. Soon afterwards he managed to evade officers in a foot chase. Former detective inspector Nathan Eason says: "You know, it was like a Hollywood movie, you know, over fences, through rivers, across streets… And that led to the kind of increase in that air of invincibility that he had."
After a near miss - in which Grant committed two rapes very close to the team's surveillance area - after 17 days of the stakeout, a suspect was seen running towards a silver Vauxhall Zafira matching the previous description, so the decision was taken to stop the driver. The officer who pulled the car over, David Matthews, says: "I was quite aware that if this was the suspect that he’d be prepared to fight. I spoke to him - he was quite chatty, he even had a bit of banter with a colleague… We searched the car and I opened the boot, there were latex gloves, a crowbar, there was a balaclava in there. Yeah, what I would deem as a bit of a burglar’s kit. And then, he looked at me and he said, 'What’s this really about?' And I just said, 'I think you know what it’s really about,' And it was like someone had switched a light out in him. His eyes kinda just glazed over and he never spoke another word."
Despite his demeanour to police officers, Grant's first wife Janet Watson says he had a different side - attacking her when she was in labour with one of their children, and later going on to suggest to police to explore whether his son was responsible for the rapes. She says: "He’s not mad. He knows what he’s doing. He’s not mad, just bad. He’ll never say sorry. And he’ll never show remorse. He never has and I don’t believe he ever will."
The Real Manhunt: The Night Stalker on ITV at 9pm tonight.