A PREDATORY rapist who attacked his sleeping victim as she recovered from medical procedure has been convicted thanks to forensic advances.

Paul Wardle, 35, of Skeeby Road, Darlington, was given a prison sentence of five years and seven months at Newcastle Crown Court, this week, several weeks after being found guilty by a trial jury.

He carried out the furtive sexual assault in 2017 while the victim was sleeping as she was unwell following a dental procedure.

On waking she realised she had been raped and later that day contacted the REACH centre, also known as the Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC), in Newcastle, where she was medically examined.

She did not feel prepared to inform police at the time, but later built up the courage and reported it, leading to an investigation by the Northumbria force’s safeguarding unit.

Wardle was arrested and strenuously denied the allegation, claiming the victim consented to sexual intercourse three days prior to the reported rape.

Thanks to the forensic capabilities at the REACH unit, and the fact the victim used its services so soon after the attack, forensic specialists were able to prove the rape took place in the 24 hours prior to her attending the centre.

Despite this irrefutable evidence being put to Wardle, he continued to deny the allegations and the case went for trial, in February, after which a jury at Newcastle Crown Court found him guilty of one count of rape.

Detective Constable James Hutchinson, who led the investigation, said the victim’s bravery in coming forward to the REACH centre was the crucial factor helping to secure Wardle's conviction.

He said: "I can't praise the courage of this women enough.

“Her instincts from the start have been key to this investigation and she absolutely did the right thing.

"Not only did this vile man subject her to this horrific rape, he then made her endure the added stress of a trial in which, thankfully, the jury saw through his lies.

“She has been so solid throughout this investigation and I hope the outcome not only provides some closure for the victim, but urges others to come forward.

"I also think it is an excellent example of the support and services that are available for victims of rape and sexual assault to help encourage victims to report.

"This man thought he could get away with his vile actions but thanks to the bravery of the victim and our partner services, he is now where he belongs behind bars."

The court heard a victim impact statement from the victim which read: "Trying to find the words to express how detrimental the past few years has been is unbelievably difficult to articulate.

"To say it has been a rollercoaster of emotions would be an understatement. His actions changed how I act and how I am as a person.

"I’ve stood in a room full of strangers and had my every word picked apart, doubted and questioned.

"I’ve had endless amounts of days where my brain won’t shut off, sleepless nights, replaying every moment over and over. I overthink and picture what may or may not have happened, a mind game of filling in the blanks that I may never know.

"I question those around me and build walls so people don’t get to see me vulnerable.

"I’ve essentially put my life on hold and I feel guilt for something that’s out of my control.

"During the trial was one of the first times I’ve acknowledged everything for what it was.

“I’ve sugar coated and dulled it down to be able to get through the day but as a whole I’ve never accepted the severity of what it was and to be able to move on I need to own what it was and that is rape.

“I did not cause it, I did not ask for it and it's made my life harder."

Detective Sergeant Lisa Clarke, temporary manager at SARC, said: "It’s results like this that really do emphasise the importance of this service.

“The victim has been incredibly brave and I'm so pleased that collectively as a partnership, we have been able to seek justice for her.

"I hope it gives others the courage to come forward.

“Even if they are not ready to report to police or instigate legal proceedings, we are here to talk.

“We can offer advice and support without any pressure to make a formal report.

“But, by coming forward in the early stages, it gives us the opportunity to gather forensic evidence should you then wish to report further down the line, which has been the case for the victim today."

Apart from the 67-month prison sentence, Wardle was also made subject of an indefinite restraining order prohibiting contact and approaches to the victim.

Anyone who has been a victim of rape or sexual assault is urged to report to police via the Northumbria force website, or by contacting 101.

Victim services are also available through reachsarc.org.uk or by ringing 0333-344 8283.