Force faces questions over ‘failure to stop’ Michael Dunn, who has been jailed for 27 years, more than two decades ago
Michael Dunn was described as a ‘devious, manipulative and controlling man with a strong urge to dominate’. Photograph: Cleveland police
The police watchdog is to investigate whether a force missed a string of opportunities to stop a violent paedophile more than two decades before he was finally convicted.
Michael Dunn, described by some as the “British Josef Fritzl”, was jailed for 27 years on Wednesday after almost five decades of sex attacks on children as young as 10.
Dunn, 57, from Redcar, North Yorkshire, built a secret cavity behind his fridge to hide a 14-year-old girl he was sexually abusing.
He knocked through the wall behind the kitchen appliance to create a cavity called a “hidey hole”, which he used to conceal the runaway girl from the police on nine separate occasions.
Dunn was found guilty in January of raping and molesting four women over five decades, imprisoning two of them as sex slaves. He was convicted of 10 rapes, three charges of false imprisonment and three charges of indecent assault.
He wept in the dock during sentencing at Teesside crown court as judge Tony Briggs said: “You are a devious, manipulative and controlling man with a strong urge to dominate. You have a very domineering and controlling personality.”
During last month’s court case the jury was told police and social services missed “a string of opportunities” to stop him.
Greater Manchester police (GMP) are now facing questions about their failure to prevent Dunn from carrying out decades of abuse after it was revealed a victim approached them in 1993 – 21 years before the report that led to his conviction. Dunn’s brother has also claimed he reported the sexual abuse to police the year before.
Robert Dunn, from Chopwell, Gateshead, Tyne and Wear, said: “I told the police about him years and years ago. If I had been listened to none of this would have happened to those girls.”
Meanwhile, one of his victims said Greater Manchester police did not believe her when she reported Dunn to them in 1993.
She said: “The matter was reported to the police in Manchester but I was not believed by the police or the social services. It meant I had no self-worth, I felt that if no one believed me it meant that any man could do whatever they wanted to me.”
The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) is now investigating whether GMP’s response to allegations of sexual abuse by Dunn made in 1993 “were effective”.
GMP has already launched its own inquiry into the case after MPs demanded answers as to whether Dunn could have been stopped sooner. The force will now probe old case files and work with Cleveland police, who built the case against Dunn, to uncover the truth over the allegations.
Tameside council will also be working with GMP on the probe, which could result in more victims stepping forward.
IPCC commissioner Jan Williams, who is overseeing the investigation, said: “The investigation we are dealing with dates back to 1993 and therefore is not straightforward. Crimes of this nature are extremely harrowing and have had a profound effect on the lives of those who survived his abuse.
“We will be looking to see what reports were made to the police at the time and how they were responded to. We will then review whether or not the allegations were dealt with in accordance with the national policing policies and guidance in place at the time.”
The investigation will examine allegations that GMP were told of Dunn’s abuse but did not carry out a robust inquiry.
GMP Ast Ch Con Catherine Hankinson said reports made during the trial were “very concerning”, adding: “We are doing everything we can to get to the bottom of this.”
Evading capture meant Dunn, who later moved to Redcar, where the abuse of a woman and girl continued, was able to continue his horrific crimes for two decades.
MPs across Greater Manchester backed calls for an urgent investigation. Blackley MP Graham Stringer previously said: “It’s important that in a case as horrific as this that everything possible is done to understand what went wrong so that the same mistakes aren’t made in the future.”
“Whether it’s the IPCC or if an internal or a council-led investigation, it’s vital that when things go wrong we know what’s gone wrong.”
The rape of one of Dunn’s victims began when she was aged 10 or 11, and two at the age of 14. The other victim was raped and physically abused as an adult.
Jurors were told that Dunn turned his home into a prison, hiding victims away behind locked doors. The doors were secured with padlocks, the rooms had CCTV cameras outside and the women had no toilet facilities other than kitchen pans.
Dunn hid one of his victims, then aged 14, from the police in what he called a “hidey hole” behind his fridge, knocking down a wall to make the cavity and disguising it with plasterboard and dust. He posted his two German shepherds outside to guard the spot where the girl cowered inside.
The young girl would run away from care and turn up at Dunn’s home in Mottram, Manchester, in the early 1990s.
Briggs said it was “particularly repellent” that Dunn, a father of six, had abused the girl after taking her under his wing when she had already been raped by a family member.
Jurors were told he was kind to her, helped her to report her abuse to the authorities and then used it as a means to win her trust to begin abusing her all over again.
The court also heard that his first victim, who was 10 or 11 when she was raped in 1978, was told by Dunn, then 19: “This is what boyfriends and girlfriends do.”
Another young victim was raped and went to the police as far back as 1993, when she was 14, but her account was not believed.
It meant that Dunn was able to continue raping and abusing victims for a further 21 years until 2014, when one of the victims found the courage to come forward and notify police.
Richard Bennett, for the prosecution, described the lengths Dunn went to in imprisoning his victims and to keep them from the authorities. He said: “He turned his home into a prison. He would lock [his victims] in various rooms, they describe his paranoia.
“They would be locked in these rooms, there were padlocks on the doors and CCTV monitoring outside the bedrooms allowing him to monitor movement inside the house. They had to ask his permission to have the doors unlocked or urinate into a pan or other container provided in the room.”
He said the victims were sometimes provided with walkie-talkies so that he could communicate with them if he chose to from behind the locked doors.
Dunn’s offending began when he lived in Manchester and continued as he lived in addresses around the country including Cambridgeshire, Newcastle, Gateshead and finally, in Redcar.
His victims told the court in statements about the effect his crimes had on their lives. The girl hidden behind the wall, now aged 38 and with children of her own, told how she had tried to take her own life after being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
She said: “After his arrest it really hit me. I took an overdose of paracetamol and alcohol, I was struggling to cope and I ended up in hospital overnight. I was so scared of him, I didn’t know what he would do next.
“The impact of this has really hit me, I have suffered extreme nightmares about Dunn attacking me. I struggle to sleep and have suffered depression. My experiences [with him] have meant that I will never be able to have an established relationship again.”
The judge said the case was horrific and described it as “repellent” that Dunn would pick on a girl who had already been abused. A pre-sentence report said Dunn posed a risk of serious harm to women. He said: “You still deny any responsibilities for your actions, saying they have lied to get you wrongly convicted.”
Outside court, DCI Warren Shepheard said: “This is the most harrowing, disturbing, complex case I have dealt with in my 25 years’ service.”