The remains of a man who died 25 years ago will be exhumed for DNA tests to see if he is responsible for the rapes that his son has been convicted for.
Eric McKenna, 58, was jailed at Newcastle Crown Court last year after a jury found him guilty of raping two women in 1983 and 1988.
But now his sister Eileen Hutton has come forward and said their father could have been behind the attacks, alleging that he was a ‘violent person, particularly towards women’.
As a result, McKenna’s wife Moria has now sought permission from the Church of England’s Consistory Court to have her late father-in-law’s remains unearthed for DNA testing.
In the majority of cases the Consistory Court refuses consent for exhumation on the basis of Church philosophy that a last resting place should be just that.
But, after being told that DNA evidence was a key issue in the case against McKenna, rare consent was given.
Euan Duff, Chancellor of the Diocese of the Diocese of Newcastle, in his role as a Consistory Court judge said: ‘Mrs Hutton contacted Moira McKenna and informed her that she did not believe that her brother had committed the offences of which he had been convicted but that her father might well have been the perpetrator.
‘She alleged that he was a violent person, particularly towards women and had served terms of imprisonment.’
Mrs McKenna also also claimed her husband had been convicted ‘solely on the basis of DNA evidence and that other aspects of the evidence had pointed away from his being the perpetrator of the offences’.
McKenna was sentenced to 23 years behind bars in March last year.
He had previously gotten into a row with a neighbour and urinated on her plant, causing her to contact the police.
Officers gave McKenna a caution, but after taking his DNA they discovered he was a match with two rapes committed in the eighties, five years apart.
The first victim was attacked in 1983, and the man pulled her jacket over her head so that she could not see his face.
At one point the jacket slipped slightly and she saw he had shoulder length dark hair, she said.
Then in 1988 a student, 18, was attacked in a secluded yard off Newcastle’s New Bridge Street as she walked home from a party.
Again the victim’s face was covered with her own jacket.
McKenna maintained that he did not commit the offences throughout the trial.
The jury heard there was a billion-to-one chance of the DNA not belonging to McKenna or a close relative.
Mr Duff said that after examining evidence used at McKenna’s trial he considered ‘the entire case against Mr McKenna relied upon the DNA evidence against him’.
But he continued on to add that consent for the exhumation was in no way to be taken as confirmation that the wrong man had been convicted.
‘I consider that if there is even a slight, but real, possibility that there has been a serious miscarriage of justice then it is wholly proper that everything be done to ensure that that is not the case,’ he said.
‘If, as may well be the case, ultimate DNA analysis establishes that the deceased could not possibly have been the perpetrator then that will put an end to any untoward allegation that he might have been guilty of the offences.
‘I am entirely satisfied that these circumstances are sufficiently compelling to justify exhumation.’