Suspect was ‘on the radar’

Last week’s arrest of a serial sex offender who spent one September evening lurking in neighbourhoods adjacent to campus raised concerns among students and organizations who believe the threat should have been made known to them early on by police.

And while such concerns are understandable, police officials want the campus community to know no women were in danger the night the suspect, 47-year-old Bradley Priestap, was allegedly on the prowl in North London. Priestap was arrested Oct. 4 after a series of break-and-enter incidents near campus.

“He wasn’t known to be in the City of London and came to our attention because of an incident in July, in the east end – nowhere near the university,” said London Deputy Police Chief of Operations Brent Shea. “That put him on the radar screen. But we still didn’t have him as a person of direct interest for anything going on in the city.”

He said police had no reason to link Priestap to a string of break-and-enters near campus reported in the early months of summer.

“If we knew there was a potential sex offender in the area, we would let the community know. At that point, it was just a string of break-and-enters.”

Since his arrest, Priestap faces 17 charges – seven for voyeurism and 10 for trespassing by night.

Shea added Priestap’s 10 offences of trespassing by night all happened in one evening, and by that time, police were aware of him and had been keeping him under close surveillance. Because of this, no one was at risk, he said.

“But the voyeurism and break-and-enter charges didn’t come through until he was arrested. Given the chronological timing of this, there wouldn’t have been any ability for us to put a (warning) out,” Shea continued.

Priestap’s has a legal trail going back to 1988, when he was convicted of sexual assault, forcible confinement, breaking and entering and mischief in an attack on a real estate agent in Perth County.

Since Priestap’s sex-related crimes happened before 2001, his name wouldn’t have been on the national sex offender registry. This made it difficult for police to establish quickly he was staying in London because he didn’t need to report his whereabouts.

Prior to his arrest in London, Priestap faced a number of charges related to sexual crimes. He had been convicted of sexual assault, forcible confinement, breaking and entering and mischief in a 1988 attack in Perth County. Two years later, he was sentenced to six-and-a-half years for sexually assaulting a London woman whom he threatened with a fake gun before taking her to the Fanshawe Conservation area and attacking her.

Elgin Austen, Campus Community Police Service director, said London police would have warned the community had they felt it was necessary.

“In public warnings, it usually means someone has been clearly attacked. If there’s a stranger-on-stranger attack and someone’s in someone’s house, those would need to be announced. Or, if we’ve got a creeper, then we’d have a description, that would be something that would require attention,” he said.

Austen said campus police have acted on similar scenarios, even recently, when warning the Western community about an alleged sexual assault in a residence.

“What we do to protect people on campus is by providing training in residences and a card access system. Off campus we also provide info and safety tips to students in neighbourhoods adjacent to campus.”