'Britain's worst sex offender' Joseph McCann: from Asbo child criminal to serial rape monster

Bill Gardner
'Brothers from Hell': a 14-year-old Joseph McCann (centre) in 1999, after he and his brothers had received one of the country's first Anti-social Behaviour Orders - MEN Media

Joseph McCann was 14 years old when he left a courtroom with his two young brothers, smirking and sticking up two fingers.

The three boys were already known as the ‘Brothers from Hell’. Earlier that morning, a magistrate had handed down one of Britain's first Anti-social Behaviour Orders, banning the McCanns from setting foot in the Beswick area of Manchester after terrorising residents for years.

The landmark order was welcomed by police and relieved locals. After the boys had left, a local supermarket reported that takings had risen by £14,000 a week. Police announced the burglary rate had fallen by 50 per cent.

But the Asbo issued in December 1997 failed to solve the problem. Instead young McCann simply moved with his family to the south of England, where he carried on his campaign of violence and intimidation.

Twenty years after the picture was taken, McCann was named one of the country’s worst ever sex offenders. Campaigners said the image “symbolised the complete failure” of the British justice system to protect the public from McCann and other dangerous criminals.

During the harrowing trial, jurors heard how in the early hours of April 21, McCann snatched a young woman from the street in Watford and raped her in her bed. Wearing a wig to hide his identity, he told her: "It is normal, it is what they do in the traveller community."

 

The woman reported the attack to police. McCann's details were put on the Police National Computer and a prison recall was issued.

But McCann remained at large and on April 25 he abducted a 25-year-old woman as she walked home from work in Walthamstow and subjected her to a 14-hour rape ordeal.

Hours later, he was caught on CCTV bundling another young woman into his car in north London, as her sister ran off screaming.

The two women were forced at knifepoint to engage in sexual activity with each other. McCann asked the women to call him "daddy", and talked about raping a child. Eventually the two captives escaped outside the Phoenix Lodge in Watford, after the 25-year-old hit McCann over the head with a vodka bottle.

The Metropolitan Police circulated a CCTV image of McCann at the Phoenix and received a tip-off with his name following a public appeal.

 McCann at a Morrisons in Greater Manchester where he abducted a 71 year old woman Credit: Metropolitan Police/PA

But McCann had been hidden away. Scotland Yard said on Friday that they believe McCann used contacts across the country to evade justice. Six people have been arrested and released under investigation on suspicion of assisting an offender.

On May 5, McCann struck again. He tricked his way into the home of a woman he met in a bar in Greater Manchester, tied her up with computer cables and raped her children in front of each other, a 17-year-old girl and 11-year-old boy.

The girl, who described McCann as "evil", eventually jumped out of a first floor window to alert police. As McCann ran out after her, the 11-year-old boy cut his mother free, saying: "Mum, mum, we are safe. (My sister) saved us."

Later that day, McCann pounced on a 71-year-old woman loading shopping in her car outside a Morrisons supermarket. After they stopped at a service station, the victim said she was driven to the entrance of an industrial estate.

"He got a bottle of wine out from my car and was drinking that while driving," the woman said. "We got into this car park and he said, 'We'll have sex now whilst we are waiting'."

McCann looking into a Fiat car as he buys petrol and a pack of condoms at a Shell garage Credit: Metropolitan Police/PA

He raped her and abducted and assaulted a 13-year-old girl in her car before they got away.

As police closed in, McCann forced two 14-year-old girls into the car by threatening to "chop them up" with a machete.

He was captured on CCTV buying condoms at a service station before he was spotted by a patrol car, which gave chase.

McCann drove the wrong way on a roundabout and crashed into a Mercedes before making off on foot, leaving the "terrified" girls behind.

Later, he was caught in a taxi at a police road block, but he ran off into a field, having changed into a wet T-shirt snatched from a clothes line.

A police helicopter finally located him up a tree. Eventually he was coaxed down and arrested early on May 6.

In the police van on the way to London, he told officers: "If you had caught me for the first two, the rest wouldn’t have happened."

It was one of the last times that McCann would engage with police. He has never spoken to investigators, and consistently refused to attend his trial.

He spoke to the courtroom on just one occasion, via a video link from his cell.

Caught: McCann is finally arrested after hiding in a tree Credit: Metropolitan Police/PA

With a long greying beard, bald head and wearing a grey prison robe, he told the judge in an Irish accent: "I wanted to come to court this morning but I got told I was not allowed to go in the clothes because at the moment I am stripped naked.

"If I go to court there is a smell of s--t on me that would kill a horse. If I commit suicide it will come out at my inquest. It will be a mistrial. It does not really bother me either way to be honest."

The following day, McCann again refused to leave his cell. The trial continued in his absence.

Born in London in February 1985 to a Scottish builder and a mother with links to the traveller community, McCann was in trouble with the police from the age of 11. In his teens, he was found guilty of possessing a knife. Convictions for theft, criminal damage and handling stolen goods followed.

By the age of 15, he and his brothers held the inner city neighbourhood of Beswick, close to Manchester city centre, in a “grip of fear”. Even adults were too frightened to talk to police about the boys, who did not attend school. During a court hearing even their own solicitor accepted they were known as the “scum of the earth”.

After the Asbo order, the family moved to Wealdstone in Middlesex to live near relatives from the traveller community.

Residents said McCann and his brothers carried on their criminal ways, stealing cars and setting fire to them in a local park.

Sean McCann, Joseph’s older brother, was frequently in and out of prison for various offences including theft and drunk driving. In 2017 he killed himself in his cell after chewing on razor blades.

McCann’s family refused to comment on his barbaric crimes. His mother Margaret, however, appears to have finally disowned her son.

In social media messages seen by the Telegraph, she said: “We are as shocked and sickened as anyone else. This Joe is not the son I had. It’s someone I don't recognise.”