Eric McKenna, pictured, was convicted of two historic rapes last year and jailed for 23 years
The remains of a rapist’s father are being dug up today to see whether he was guilty of two sex attacks that his son was jailed for.
Eric McKenna was handed a 23-year prison sentence last year after being found guilty of raping two strangers in the 1980s and was only snared three decades later after he urinated in a plant pot during a petty disagreement with a neighbour and his DNA was matched to swabs taken from the crime scenes.
McKenna, 58, has always maintained his innocence and earlier this year his sister Eileen Hutton suggested the rapist could have been her father Thomas, rather than her brother.
This led to McKenna’s wife Moira successfully requesting permission from the Church of England to exhume her father-in-law’s body so his DNA could be tested.
Humans inherit 50 per cent of their DNA from each parent meaning there will be differences in the samples taken from McKenna and his father.
But McKenna’s first victim Wendy Forrester, who has waived her right to anonymity, has slammed the efforts to exhume Thomas McKenna’s body and said she was ‘angry and insulted’ at the suggestion Eric is innocent.
Thomas died of a heart attacked aged 62 in April 1993 and his body has been dug up at St John’s Cemetery in Newcastle.
A huge blue plastic sheet was erected around the area and forensic officers were on the scene dressed in white suits, helmets and masks.
A spokesperson for Newcastle City Council said: ‘Following the Church of England’s decision to grant permission for an exhumation, we can confirm this process began with the full co-operation of the family early this morning.
McKenna has always maintained his innocence and today his father’s body is being exhumed from his grave in St John’s Cemetery, Newcastle, pictured, to see if his DNA matches genetic material found at the crime scenes
McKenna’s wife Moira and sister Eileen Hutton have led the charge to have the body exhumed and suggested it was possible Thomas McKenna committed the crimes. Pictured is a forensic tent erected around his grave in Newcastle
‘Our Bereavement Services Team are carrying out the exhumation and subsequent filling-in of the grave. This is likely to be completed by midday today.
‘We would ask everyone to show respect to all those who lay at rest in St John’s Cemetery, Elswick, and their families, throughout this process.’
McKenna, of Arthur’s Hill, Newcastle, was convicted of the two attacks, which happened in 1983 and 1988, following a trial at Newcastle Crown Court.
Two women, who were aged 21 and 18 at the time, were raped by a stranger who covered their faces.
The sick crimes went unsolved for 35 years, until McKenna gave a DNA sample when he was cautioned by police in 2016 for urinating in a neighbour’s plant pot.
His profile threw up a ‘hit’ on the police DNA database, linking him to the historic unsolved rapes.
The trial heard the chances of the DNA belonging to someone other than McKenna ‘or a close relative’ were ‘a billion to one’.
Despite the ‘absolute killer evidence’, McKenna, from Newcastle, who has no known brothers, denied the charges and told the court ‘the DNA is not mine’ during his evidence.
Judge Edward Bindloss said the attacks were ‘unusual’ and ‘both violent’ and have affected both women for the rest of their lives.
McKenna, 58, pictured left, was snared after he urinated in a plant pot during a petty dispute with a neighbour and his DNA was matched to swabs taken from the crime scenes. Wendy Forrester, 57, bravely waived her right to anonymity to come forward as McKenna’s first victim from 1983
Prosecutor Andrew Espley said the offences were ‘alarming’ and told jurors: ‘What we say is this case concerns two very similar, violent stranger rapes, carried out on lone women walking home.
How does a son’s DNA differ from a father’s?
DNA is genetic material that all humans and most other living organisms have that govern their appearance and their ability to grow, reproduce and function.
It is a chemical made up of two long molecules which are arranged in a spiral, called a double helix.
A person inherits their DNA from their parents, split evenly at 50 per cent from each.
This means a son will share half of his father’s genetic material, but also have differences in DNA thanks to his mother.
Every human has unique DNA, except identical twins, and thus scientists are able to examine genetic material collected from a crime scene and compare it to a person’s DNA profile to see if there is a match.
‘These are very, very serious rapes indeed. We are here because advances in DNA technology have enabled us to show the same man was responsible for carrying out both rapes and that man is this defendant, Eric McKenna.’
The court heard first victim Ms Forrester was attacked in May 1983 aged 21 after being out at a party in Gateshead.
Jurors heard Ms Forrester, who was a single mother, suffered ‘appalling’ treatment when she reported her ordeal to the police at the time, who kept her waiting up to 15 minutes to be seen, asked if she was gay and advised her to, ‘Go home and forget about it’.
Despite the way she was spoken to, she told police she had been approached by the stranger near the Gateshead side of the High Level Bridge, who put his arm around her neck and his hand over her mouth and claimed to have a knife.
The attacker, who stole documentation containing the victim’s address, raped her while her head was covered in her own t-shirt and jacket, after he forced her to strip naked.
He then gave her money for her bus fare home but warned: ‘If you go to the cops I know who you are and where you drink.’
Speaking about the rape following McKenna’s conviction, she said: ‘After my attack, I had a breakdown.
The Church of England and Newcastle City Council both granted permission for the body to be exhumed and it is understood the family is covering the cost
‘I moved around several times because I was so frightened of him and had nightmares about him coming to get me.
‘I just prayed that one day I’d get justice for what happened.’
McKenna’s trial heard the second attack, which happened five years later in March 1988, had ‘marked similarities’ to the first.
The court heard the second victim, then 18, had been walking home from a night out and was approached by a stranger in Newcastle city centre.
The man had offered to show the woman a ‘short cut’ then dragged her into a deserted yard and raped her at knifepoint after threatening to, ‘Cut her legs and cut her breasts off’ if he did not do what she said and if she did not ‘enjoy it’.
The court heard the woman was also stripped naked and her own jacket was held over her head while she was raped.
She was hit in the face after she started crying and was left to collect pieces of her own clothing from the ground before she made her way to a city police station.
Forensic teams have been spotted in medical overalls taking plastic bags in and out of the tent