Collier Row sex attacker snared by DNA evidence 20 years on

A sex attacker from Collier Row who cheated justice for nearly 20 years after dragging a teenage au pair to the ground and trying to rape her was jailed yesterday.

Stephen Henkel, 57, ambushed his 18-year-old victim as she walked home alone from a Tube station after celebrating her boyfriend’s birthday in 1992.

But her attacker went undetected for nearly two decades until police launched a cold case review and found traces of his DNA in blood stains on the woman’s jacket.

Henkel, from Loweshoe Lane, denied attempted rape and indecent assault but was convicted at the Old Bailey.

In a statement read to the court, his victim, now aged 38, said: “I have never forgotten what this man did to me and the trust I had in people has gone.

“He is an animal and there is no way he should be treated like a human being. What he did to me was disgusting and although I wouldn’t allow him to ruin my life, he has changed it beyond comprehension.’

Jailing Henkel for six years and three months, the judge, Mr Recorder Jeremy Benson QC, told Henkel: “It is quite clear that it is only because your victim put up such a violent defence of herself that you eventually gave up and ran off. Therefore, it is really through no fault of yours that the offence was not completed.’

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Henkel’s victim had come to live in the UK from her native Denmark and was heading to her home in Chigwell, Essex, from Woodford Tube station late on June 25.

After walking for some time she turned around and noticed a man walking behind her.

“It reached a stage whereby she could hear the footsteps of the man behind her quickening,’ said prosecutor Toyin Salako.

“Despite this, naively she believed that maybe he was rushing to get home. With this in mind she slowed down, pretending to look for something in her bag, so as to give the man the opportunity to pass her.

“As she slowed down, the man, instead of passing her, stood level with her. He then pushed her in the face using his hand.

“The force of the push was such that she fell onto the grass verge.”

As his victim lay on the ground, Henkel is said to have tried to force her legs apart, telling her: “I don’t want to hurt you, I just want to have sex.”

When she screamed, he put his hand over her mouth until she had difficulty breathing, before attempting to kiss her.

It was at this point the woman bit his lip so hard she drew blood, which splashed onto her jacket and would eventually link her attacker to the crime.

As she continued to put up a fight, Henkel told her: “I’m going to kill you.”

He later tried to pull her over a barbed wire fence into a field and, when she fought back, punched her in the face repeatedly. The woman still has scars inflicted by the wire fence.

She eventually decided to act as if she had passed out, and Henkel ran off when he thought he could hear somebody else approaching.

But despite an extensive police investigation and media coverage, no suspect was identified.

It was not until September 21 last year, following the DNA match, that Henkel was arrested.

He claimed he had met his victim and chatted with her, and that he attempted to kiss her, but claims nothing further took place.

Henkel denied indecent assault and attempted rape.