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Wanted Crawley offender brought to justice after new line of police enquiries emerged

A man who assaulted and choked a woman in her bed has finally been brought to justice.

Joseph Watts threatened to kill the victim, who was known to him, during the incident in Crawley in January 1990.

It left her with injuries to her neck and with post-traumatic stress.

Watts, then aged 44, was charged by police and was given bail conditions including to attend court.

But he failed to do so, and a warrant was issued for his arrest on February 11, 1991.

His known addresses were checked, as well as places where he may have gone.

But he left Sussex, disappeared, and lived under false names and aliases in the years after.

Official checks were carried out, appeals were launched, and further reviews to locate him were carried out, but there were no new lines of enquiry until an officer from Sussex Police’s Specialist Enforcement Unit reviewed outstanding warrants earlier this year.

The officer found that there was finally a new lead to locate Watts, from an official source.

He was then arrested on June 17, 2022 in Cam, Gloucestershire.

Investigator Lauren Mann reviewed the paper evidence files from 1990 and rebuilt the case.

This work ensured Watts, now 76, formerly of Banks Road, Crawley, and most recently of Frederick Thomas Road, Cam, Gloucestershire, was charged by the Crown Prosecution Service with causing grievous bodily harm under Section 20 of the Offences Against the Person Act.

At Lewes Crown Court on October 21, Watts admitted the charge.

Thomas Acworth, prosecuting, told the court that the original incident unfolded on January 13, 1990.

Watts was in the victim’s flat and they had consumed alcohol before he began talking obsessively about the occult and the supernatural.

The victim retired to bed and awoke to find Watts acting strangely, kneeling at the foot of the bed, before leaping onto the bed to assault and choke her. He also made threats to kill her.

It left the victim “terrified”, Mr Acworth said. “She thought she was going to die.”

The victim reported the incident firstly to a friend, and then to the police, who arrested and later charged Watts.

Mr Acworth added: “Watts’ failure to surrender for 31-and-a-half years cannot be described as anything other than a deliberate attempt to evade or delay justice. 

“His failure to attend the Crown Court in February 1991 has obviously resulted in a substantial delay and interference with the administration of justice.”

Judge Christine Laing KQ, said that while Watts had shown remorse, this was undermined by his long disappearance which had prevented the victim from obtaining justice.

The judge sentenced Watts to four years and one month in prison.

Speaking after the case, Lauren Mann said: “This was a complex case to bring together, locating witnesses and obtaining new evidence, with the support of the victim.

“Working with the CPS, we were able to bring the case back to court, and Watts had no choice but to plead guilty.

“It was a frightening ordeal for her, so we are pleased that at long last she has been able to get justice.

“The case demonstrates that officers continue to pursue new lines of enquiry that come to us, to ensure dangerous offenders are brought to justice.”

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