Serial sex attacker Rufus Kirkpatrick sent shockwaves through central Leeds as he attacked lone women. Crime reporter Bruce Smith looks at the hunt which brought him to justice.
When a woman was grabbed and indecently assaulted in Woodhouse, Leeds, in December 2009, it was a worrying incident for police, but there was nothing to indicate a serial sex attacker was on the loose.
When a similar offence occurred near the city centre nearly three weeks later there was still no strong indication they were connected.
But when, just five days after that, two more lone women were subjected to similar ordeals on the fringe of the city centre within 45 minutes, it seemed highly likely to Det Chief Insp Simon Beldon of City and Holbeck CID that one man was responsible and a full-scale inquiry was launched.
Dubbed “Operation Dinosaur”, the inquiry brought together proven detecting techniques, the latest scientific investigative methods and, just as importantly, cross force communication systems to ultimately take George Rufus Kirkpatrick off the streets after 11 months.
His arrest and prosecution brought to an end a campaign which left victims – some of whom had feared they would be raped – frightened to go out alone again.
The first attack occurred on December 13 when a 20-year-old woman was grabbed from behind as she talked on her phone while walking in Blenheim Walk, Woodhouse, at 1.15am. She was grabbed around the shoulder and neck and indecently assaulted. She struggled and screamed and her assailant fled.
Just 19 days later, at 2am on January 1, a 32-year-old woman sales manager was grabbed in Quebec Street, off City Square, by a man who tried to drag her into an alleyway. The victim had been to a house party in the Call Lane area on New Year’s Eve and was to spend the night at a friend’s apartment. After visiting the nearby Calls Landing bar with friends she was unable to get a taxi and decided to walk. She heard footsteps behind her.
“The next thing I knew I heard someone say ‘Hello’ and I was grabbed from behind in the crotch and around my shoulders by a man,” she later told theYEP. “He was trying to pull me into an alleyway. I screamed as loud as I could and grabbed onto a street bollard to try and prevent him dragging me.”
The mystery attacker stepped up his campaign when he carried out two more assaults on lone women on January 6.
The first occurred at 8.15pm when a 25-year-old in Chadwick Street, just off Hunslet Road, noticed she was being followed. She began to run but was chased by the stranger. He grabbed her around the shoulder and neck and pulled her to the ground. She screamed for help but he indecently assaulted her and ran off.
Only 35 minutes later and a short walk away in Canal Wharfe off Water Lane, Holbeck, a 29-year-old was grabbed from behind and dragged to the ground after crossing a footbridge. The man indecently assaulted her and then straddled her body, as if to rape her. She gouged at one of his eye sockets with her fingers. Two passing men, hearing the commotion, ran towards the figures on the ground and her attacker ran off.
After the launch of the Homicide and Major Enquiry Team inquiry each of the offences was reinvestigated. Scientists obtained a partial DNA profile from material recovered from beneath the fingernails of the woman who had scratched at her attacker’s eye socket. But it did not match any on the police database.
Offenders with a history of sex attacks had DNA samples taken but no match could be found.
The National Policing Improvement Agency was contacted and a Geographical Profiling expert mapped the routes of the victims and their attackers. The profiler told detectives: “I think the close containment of these offences over time still indicate that the offender has a ‘significant’ association to the centre of Leeds, near the railway station, and particularly around where the offences have been committed.”
This turned out to be the case – for Kirkpatrick had been a shift worker in the city centre living in Headingley.
As officers began to widen their horizons, the attacks in Leeds suddenly stopped.
It was established that Kirkpatrick had later left his job as a chef in Leeds city centre to work in Halifax. Some of the Leeds offences were committed whilst he lived in Halifax but still worked in Leeds. The Leeds offences stopped completely when he moved to Halifax.
But while in Halifax, Kirkpatrick followed a teenager off a bus and carried out an attack in Halifax Road, Shelf, virtually identical to the Leeds assaults. Local police made a media appeal using footage from the bus’s CCTV.
Clearly recognisable in the CCTV, Kirkpatrick surrendered to police and was charged with the Halifax attack. There was nothing for the Halifax detectives to link him to other offences, but DNA samples were taken before he returned home to Presteign, Powys, in South Wales.
The HMET team investigating the Leeds offences were notified by Halifax police and when Kirkpatrick’s DNA profile was obtained, a match was made with the partial DNA of the suspect involved in the Leeds Canal Wharfe attack.
West Yorkshire officers then travelled to South Wales and arrested Kirkpatrick. Though he admitted being in the approximate area of some of the Leeds assaults he denied being near the others. He was charged with four assaults.
Kirkpatrick, 29, originates from Wales. He had a partner with whom he lived and had two small children. He had attended university in Leeds and had no previous convictions. He cuts a rather gawky and not particularly attractive figure.
He left his victims distraught and today they are still trying to recover from their ordeal.
Five months after her shattering experience, one victim – modern career woman – told the YEP: “I am absolutely petrified. I have to go out on the road for my work and now have to have somebody with me. I cannot go out after dark on my own. I cannot walk my dog and it is like being housebound.”