Monday, 29 December 2008

Rape on a Canal Towpath

On 21 July 2000, a woman was raped on canal towpath in Ladbroke grove, London.

On 16 March 2001, the BBC website reported thus:

"The teenage gang who raped a 37-year-old woman on a London canal towpath may never have been caught but for their need to brag about their actions.

Officers investigating the case said the apparent lack of concern for what they had done may well have been the downfall of the gang.

At London's Blackfriars Crown Court on Friday, Claire Marsh, 18, of Margate, Kent, was found guilty of rape for her part in the July 2000 attack. She will be sentenced at the Old Bailey on 8 May, along with Marvin Edwards, 18, of Brentford, west London, and a 15-year-old, who admitted rape at the beginning of the two-and-a-half week trial.

When the gang's victim first approached police to tell them she had been repeatedly raped, they were worried she would be unable to give them a detailed description of those involved.

The woman said she had been ‘tipsy’ at the time of the attack, and that, apart from the fact that the two men who raped her were black, and that she had heard girls ‘egging them on’, she could remember little else.

But it was not too long before information began to filter through to police - the result of the teenagers' inability to resist bragging about their actions.

‘They were telling everyone around, one of the officers involved said.

Just hours after the attack reached the media, members of the public were contacting police to tell them what they had heard.

An appeal on ITV's Crimestoppers programme brought more calls, and increasingly the leads were pointing to a gang of white, black and mixed-race youngsters with a reputation for anti-social behaviour.

All 14 members of the gang were detained, but apart from two of those later charged with rape, none of them had previous convictions.

It soon emerged that several of them, including Marsh, had been arrested just hours after the attack for an alleged break-in at an off-licence. That case never got to court.

Officers were struck by how unconcerned the gang members seemed to be about what had happened to the victim. One officer said Marsh seemed ‘disinterested. You could have been dealing with her for shoplifting. She certainly didn't seem sorry about what happened. I think that reflects the attitude of all those who were arrested. They just didn't see the severity of it’."
This is how The Evening Standard of 19 March 2001, put it:

"This is not an estate in which you would automatically assume violence lurks… Yet it was on the Lydford Estate in west London that a group of young people formed the bonds which eventually led to the most brutal of rapes being committed on a woman who had simply gone to the pub for a drink…

The events of that warm July night were the culmination of a spiral of petty crime, random violence and anti-social behaviour inflicted by the Drayford Crew, a loosely knit group of angry, alienated and rootless youngsters.

Chief among them was 18-year-old Marvin Edwards, the youngest of six children from a broken home, whose troubled upbringing and lack of supervision soon found him mixing with the wrong crowd.

His mother Lena believed the boy, who had to attend a special school in Swiss Cottage because of learning difficulties, was a bit of a rogue, but would never have thought him capable of committing rape.

Having been fostered for a couple of years by an aunt, Marvin Edwards eventually returned to live with his 61-year-old mother in Fernhead Road, a short walk from where her son took a leading role in the rape…

Said a tearful Mrs Edwards:

‘When he was young he was a nice boy. My sister-in-law fostered him for a while because he was mentally handicapped. After he came back to me he lived with his father and was going to college.

As he grew up he smoked a bit and got into a few fights like everyone does…

Those who had seen Edwards and the Drayford Crew in action could see they were heading for serious trouble. Late on the night of 21 July last year they gathered in one of the courtyards laughing and screaming. Some members of the gang were openly celebrating the rape of 37-year-old singer-songwriter Delphi Newman barely a mile away on the towpath of the Grand Union Canal.

‘They were completely unashamed and unafraid,’ said a 59-year-old woman who, along with other tenants on the Lydford Estate off Harrow Road, was woken by their shouting.

‘They were laughing and boasting. Some of them were shouting 'We did it, we did it' and 'You did it'. The next day we heard about the rape and immediately realised that's what they were shouting about'...

For several months the gang, some as young as 12, created mayhem. The 59-year-old, who has lived on the estate since it was built in 1975, said Edwards was always getting into scrapes and Mrs Edwards seemed to find it hard to keep him under control.

Someone else described as ‘out of control’ was a 16-year-old friend of Edwards who pleaded not guilty to the rape and was cleared on Friday.

He lived with his mother and four younger brothers and sisters. Like his older friend he had a difficult upbringing. His mother had him in her mid-teens and he had no contact with his natural father. He was far from an ideal pupil and by his own admission disliked school and hated any sort of discipline.

However his life took a turn for the better when he met a wealthy couple from Essex through an organisation that arranges holidays for poor children. Under a fostering arrangement he eventually went to live at their comfortable home, complete with swimming pool, and for the first time enjoyed a structure to his life, doing his homework and going to bed at a decent time.

In evidence the husband, a tax manager with an investment bank, said he thought the boy was ‘honest’ while his wife said she would have trusted him with her two teenage daughters.

‘He was a bit scruffy and rough around the edges, but he had a lovely time,’ she said...

He went to Disneyland USA twice with the family and was even added to their private health scheme, but it was not to last. After 15 months, aged 14, he once again rebelled against the discipline the couple were trying to impose and went back to live with his mother…

Back in London he effectively gave up school...

‘He was always out causing problems, smashing things up and hanging around with crowds of boys from other estates,’ said a neighbour.

‘At one stage we were calling the police about three or four times a night.’

The Drayford Crew had no hesitation in turning on one of their own. Four of them were accused of attempting to intimidate other gang members who witnessed the rape, even threatening to burn down the 16-year-old's house.

A retired retail manager who lived nearby was involved in several confrontations with the gang, including the 16-year-old. He said:

‘His mates threatened to kick my door in and drag me out so I told them to take their best shot. They walked off after that.

‘They are surly, with no respect for anything or anyone. They would sit on abandoned cars smoking cannabis, damaging cars, smashing windows. They are never at school. I'm afraid it didn't surprise me when I heard he had been arrested for rape.’

At one stage one of the bravest of the residents gathered together a petition demanding that the Housing Association - which manages the maisonette where the 16-year-old lived - do something. It is understood the housing association threatened the family with eviction should any anti-social behaviour continue.

It was a similar story with another of the gang members, a 15-year-old boy who also pleaded not guilty to the rape, and was also acquitted.

One of five children from five different fathers, he lived half a mile away on another estate, once notorious as a muggers' paradise but now benefiting from a multi-million-pound regeneration programme.

Until his arrest the 15-year-old and his friends delighted in making life a misery for their neighbours. A BT telephone engineer whose flat overlooks the boy's home said:

‘They used the walkways as a haven, smoking weed and spitting everywhere. They've got this attitude that 'you can't touch me'.’

One mother-of-three was so afraid of the youths she barricaded her front door and now only comes and goes through her back garden, from where she has a clearer view.

‘They were rude and aggressive. They loved to throw glasses and bottles down from a walkway until the council boarded it up,’ she said…

The prominent role in the rape by 18-year-old hairdresser Claire Marsh, who was alleged to have held the victim down as she was violated, shocked many - not least her grandfather Douglas Savill, a former RAF fitness instructor.

Marsh was living at his home in Margate when police arrested her.

Speaking from his simply-furnished, two-bedroom flat in a sheltered housing unit, Mr Savill, 69, said:

‘She is a nice, caring girl who is lovely with children. I cannot imagine she would ever have been involved with this. Claire has been a lovely grand-daughter to me. I really do think she must have got in the wrong crowd.’

Brought up on the notorious Stonebridge Park Estate, Marsh left school with nine GCSEs, finding a job first in a Harrow hair salon, then McDonald's.

Police described her as ‘quite intelligent’ and her headmaster at Copland School in Wembley, Sir Alan Davis, said:

‘She had a very good record of attendance. She was a quiet girl who never presented any problem at school’."
And then she decided that black lads were more fun to hang out with, eh?

'They've got this attitude that 'you can't touch me',' said a telephone engineer.

That’d be right. Not with the PC crowd and the politicians protecting them you can’t.

In May 2001, the BBC website continued the story outlined above:

"Claire Marsh, 18, is believed to be one of the youngest of the few woman convicted of rape in the UK. She was among a group of up to 12 youths who attacked a 37-year-old woman on a London canal towpath in July last year.

Marsh, from Margate, Kent, pinned down the victim, punched her and ripped off her top.

Her two co-accused, aged 15 and 18, were sentenced to five years in a young offenders' institution after admitting the rape.

Marsh had denied the attack but was found guilty by a jury last month…

Mr Morley said publicity about Marsh's conviction had made her ‘notorious’ among women prisoners, who had threatened her. This had forced prison authorities to hold her away from other inmates.

The jury at Blackfriars Crown Court last month had heard how a 15-year-old boy tore off the victim's trousers and raped her while others in the group shouted encouragement.

When the first youth had finished, Marvin Edwards, 18, also raped her…

The victim told the court how she was surrounded and robbed before being thrown into the canal. She had no choice but clamber back on to the bank where her attackers waited."
Below are photographs of the gang-rapists, Marvin Edwards and Claire Marsh.
Marsh was white, the rest of the gang was black.

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