Charge blunder sees rapist freed by appeal court

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AN ‘extremely dangerous’ rapist was freed just two months into his sentence after prosectors bungled his conviction.

Top judge Mr Justice Maddison, said it was ‘a woeful state of affairs’ that David James Shields, of Cornwallis Terrace, had been charged with an offence that no longer technically existed.

He said: “What is particularly disturbing is that this mix up has occurred in the case of a man who there are grounds for believing is extremely dangerous.”

Shields, 58, who served a 10-year jail term for rape in the 1990s, was accused of stripping naked in front of a terrified woman on Hastings beach last October. London’s Appeal Court heard he allegedly touched her breast and tried to kiss her.

Shields was given a life-long Sexual Offences Prevention Order (SOPO) in 2005. After the beach incident, which breached this order, he was prosecuted at Lewes Crown Court and jailed for nine months in March this year.

But the charge brought against him - of breaching a ‘sex offender order’ - had not existed for seven years, since the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 was replaced by the 2003 Sexual Offences Act.

Mr Justice Maddison freed Shields on bail on May 18 after being told the charge he faced ‘was not known to the law’.

The judge’s decision can only now be made public after prosecutors announced they would not seek a retrial, meaning reporting restrictions were lifted.

Ordering his release in May, Mr Justice Maddison said police viewed Shields as a ‘significant risk to female members of the public’.

He added it was ‘disappointing to put it mildly’ that he had been charged with a defunct offence.

The judge added: “It is a woeful state of affairs I’m afraid. It seems entirely clear that he was convicted of an offence not known to the law at the relevant time.”

Lord Justice Rix, Mr Justice Stadlen and Judge Martin Stephens QC have now overturned Shields’ conviction.

Crown Prosecution Service lawyers said another trial was ‘not in the interests of justice’ as Shields has served at least part of his original sentence, is still subject to the indefinite SOPO and a retrial would involve the alleged victim enduring testimony a second time.

Bail conditions for Shields, including a night-time curfew and daily reporting to Hastings Police Station, have been lifted after his unlawful conviction was quashed.