Man Jailed After Dorset Rape 23 Years Ago

19 March 2010, 14:01 | Updated: 19 March 2010, 14:13

A Poole woman, who was raped 23 years ago, has spoken of her relief that the man who did it has been caught thanks to DNA technology.

53-year-old Dennis Fitzgerald, a handyman from Nottingham, was sentenced to eight years in prison at Bournemouth Crown Court after pleading guilty to rape last month.

Fitzgerald was arrested following intelligence received from the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre.  On arrest, DNA was taken and was subsequently matched to the rape of a young woman which happened more than 20 years ago.

The victim who’s in her early forties said: “I had a knock on the door in November from Dorset Police, basically telling me that after all this time, they had got him, they matched him through DNA.

 “It was a bit of a shock and something I never had imagined would happen, but it was just fantastic. This guy would have never have been caught on a description because I was tied up and blind-folded and I would have never been able to describe him.

 “It’s just fantastic to know that he hasn’t got away with it, there’s no mistaken identity – this was definitely him.”

In November 1987, the victim was asleep in her home when she was awoken by Dennis Fitzgerald, a man who she didn’t know. She was threatened, bound and gagged. Fitzgerald then raped the woman twice before leaving.

The victim explained: “Being woken up in the middle of the night by a complete stranger, I actually couldn’t believe I lived through it. I thought that at that moment when I realised what was happening, I was going to die.”

A major investigation was conducted by Dorset Police at the time but Fitzgerald was not identified, and eventually the case was filed. During the investigation, a sample believed to have originated from the suspect was retrieved by a Crime Scene Investigator and was forwarded to a forensic laboratory.

In 2004, officers with the Dorset Police Major Crime Investigation Team (MCIT) conducted a review of this investigation and due to the advancement in forensic capabilities, the sample that had been seized in 1987 was examined. As a result, a full DNA sample was identified and this was forwarded to the National DNA database in Birmingham. The sample did not match that of any sample that was contained on the database.

In October 2009, Fitzgerald was arrested by Nottingham Police for an unconnected matter. During the course of that investigation, Fitzgerald provided a sample of his DNA. In November 2009, Dorset Police was advised that Fitzgerald's DNA matched that of the sample taken from the crime scene back in 1987.

Following consultation with the Crown Prosecution Service, officers from Dorset Police travelled to the Nottingham area in December 2009, where Fitzgerald was arrested on suspicion of rape. During a search of his house, officers found documentation which suggested at the time of the offence, he was completing a course at the army camp in Bovington.

Dennis Fitzgerald was taken back to Bournemouth police station where he was interviewed and the CPS subsequently authorised Dorset Police to charge Dennis Fitzgerald with rape.

The victim continued: “Seeing him in court for the first time was pretty traumatic but it was something I needed to do, I needed to put a face to this monster. I didn’t realise how good it would feel to know that this man is off the streets and to be able to walk down the street in 23 years without thinking that every man was the man who did it.”

On Tuesday 23 February 2010, Dennis Fitzgerald pleaded guilty to the rape and today, Friday 19 March 2010, was sentenced to eight years imprisonment.

Detective Chief Inspector Kevin Connolly of the Major Crime Investigation Team, said: “The victim has been extremely brave in this particular nasty case. She has coped with it very well and just hope that this outcome provides her with an opportunity to finally put this ordeal behind her.

“This case just goes to prove that we will pursue every line of enquiry to bring offenders to justice and thanks to the advances in forensic technology, there’s even more chance that offenders will be caught.”