Bedford rape victim speaks out about how attack has haunted her for 20 years

Donald Kargbo-Reffell
Donald Kargbo-Reffell

A rape victim has described how she has been haunted by the violent attack for nearly 20 years.

She has spoken out after her attacker was jailed for 12 years – for the historic rape dating back to 1999.

The offence happened when the victim, then in her 30s, was walking home after visiting a family member.

She was grabbed around the throat from behind by her attacker, then dragged into bushes in Bromham Road, Bedford, where she was raped.

She later told her husband and the incident was reported to police who recoveredDNA.

Officers followed up several lines of enquiry at the time, but it was not possible to identify the offender.

Almost 20 years later in December 2017, as part of a review into unsolved serious sexual assault cases, suspect Donald Kargbo-Reffell, 49, of Princess Street, Clapham, was identified.

Kargbo-Reffell was jailed for 12 years at Luton Crown Court on Tuesday. He was found guilty at a seven-day trial which concluded in early October.

In a moving interview, his victim spoke about the attack that has haunted her for almost two decades. She said: “I didn’t believe he would be found guilty after all this time.

“I knew the police believed me, but to know that the 12 jury members did too made me have faith in the justice system.

“For 19 years I have suffered with this rape.”

Judge Richard Foster praised her bravery and said: “I cannot think of a worse piece of violence to be inflicted on a woman.”

He went on to express his gratitude to the investigation team for the “marvellous job” they have done in revisiting this cold case.

The judge also made a High Sheriff’s Award of £250 to a witness for coming forward and giving evidence.

Detective Inspector Alan Page, from the Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire Major Crime Unit, said: “The victim has been incredibly brave. Firstly, all those years ago, making the initial report of the attack, and now so many years later supporting the reinvestigation. We must commend her courage.

“It is really satisfying to bring offenders to justice, even years after the offence was committed.

“We take all reports of rape, sexual assault and sexual violence extremely seriously, however long ago it may have happened.

“We would encourage anyone who has been the victim of rape or sexual abuse, no matter when it took place, to come forward and report their experience, get support and more importantly, know they are not alone.”

This case was reviewed under Operation Painter, which was started in 2016 by the Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire Major Crime Unit, and reviews undetected rapes and sexual offences which occurred between 1974 and 1999.

Detective Chief Superintendent Mark Lay of Bedfordshire Police, the officer in charge of Operation Painter, said: “This is the third positive outcome under Operation Painter, thanks to advancements in DNA and forensic science which have allowed us to review cases dating back decades.

“This further proves the importance of this work in revisiting past cases in order to bring evil predators to justice and deliver a form of closure for their victims.”

The team is currently reviewing in excess of 1,600 crimes dating back as far as 1974 across Beds, Cambs and Hertfordshire.