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Daniela Vinci was finding it hard to sleep. It had been an exceptionally difficult time for the unmarried 40-year-old, who had suffered a break-in at her three-bedroom maisonette in Slough just two nights before.
Though unhurt, she had been deeply unsettled by the burglary, during which her mobile phone, laptop and bank cards had been taken while she slept.
The following day Daniela, 40, had replaced her locks, but she still felt unsafe in her own home.
Just after 11pm she checked that everything was secure and went to bed and, after tossing and turning, eventually fell into a deep sleep.
Three hours later, she was woken by a flashlight shining in her face — and found herself plunged into a nightmare.
One of the burglars who had broken into her home had returned. And this time he had come back to rape her.
Her ordeal is horrifyingly similar to that of the 59-year-old woman identified by police only as Linda, who spoke last week of how Ashley Mills, a burglar who had been convicted of breaking into her home, returned to rape her four years after the first crime.
Daniela had owned her immaculate £300,000 three-storey maisonette for six years, her retreat from the pressures of a jet-setting career as a senior cabin attendant.
‘There was a balcony on the second floor, but I would leave the window ajar because I didn’t think it was possible for anyone to climb up there,’ she says.
But in April, two young men managed to clamber up onto the balcony, breaking into Daniela’s home while she lay sound asleep upstairs. They stole her purse with her bank cards, her laptop and mobile phone, before fleeing out of the front door.
Daniela resolved to be more careful about home security. But two nights later, one of the raiders broke in again through her kitchen window.
‘Suddenly I sensed a torch shining in my face. I stretched out, still half-dreaming, to switch on my bedroom light.
‘Then I saw him. I immediately realised I was in serious danger and knew instinctively it was the same man who had stolen my belongings two days before.
‘In that awful moment, the training I had done when I began work as an airline stewardess kicked in.
‘Keeping my voice as steady as I could, I said: “What’s your name? What are you doing here?”
‘He replied: “My name is Josh and I am 19.” ’
Police would later discover that he was Joseph Innocent Mwaura — a Kenyan who had committed a violent knife crime within a year of being granted a British passport at the age of 16.
As Daniela would discover, he decided to pay her another visit when he saw her photographs on the laptop he had stolen.
Daniela, who is softly spoken and slightly built, found herself in a desperate fight for survival.
‘I asked him: “What do you want?” There was a terrible pause before he replied menacingly: “I want your t**s.”
‘I knew then that this was not a simple robbery. The realisation that he planned to rape me was truly horrific.
‘I tried to stay still, desperately trying to stay calm. But I was alone in my bedroom with no one else in the house and no means of calling for help. The odds were truly against me.
‘Slowly he raised his gaze and looked me square in the eye, before saying: “I’ve been watching you.” My stomach flipped in fear and I started to shake.’
What followed was terrifying. ‘He pulled up his top, rubbed his chest and said: “Do you want some of this?” Then he lunged at me, grabbing my body and saying filthy things to me,’ says Daniela.
‘Somehow, I found the strength to push him away, frighteningly conscious I was naked under the duvet. I felt so vulnerable.
‘I began saying “No” again and again as firmly as I could. I knew that it was imperative I remained calm.
‘I had to get him out of the bedroom to give me a chance to escape or call for help, so I took a gamble and said: “You can do what you want, but let’s go downstairs.”
‘He didn’t object so, as he walked out to go down the stairs, I leapt out of bed, pulled on my pyjamas and followed him.’
Daniela thought the only chance for survival would be if she could keep him distracted, so she tried to strike up a conversation.
‘I felt physically sick. His actions were strange and detached, but I tried to talk to him.
‘I said: “The best thing you can do is to leave my property now. There’s the door.”
‘He replied: “How do I know you won’t call the police?” I said: “Take my phone and hide it.” He walked into the kitchen with my new mobile phone, but suddenly, something seemed to click.
‘His strange, almost robotic compliance ended and he wrenched open a kitchen drawer and pulled out a large, sharp knife.
‘I threw myself down the stairs. I’d managed to half-release the lock on the front door when my attacker grabbed me by the throat and pulled me back.
‘His words came spitting out. “I’m going to rape you,” he snarled. I screamed and screamed. He pushed the knife against my throat and spat: “If you do that again, I’m going to kill you.”
‘I thought I was going to die there, like that.’
Then Daniela did something extraordinarily brave.
‘I smelt the sickening sweet smell of marijuana on his breath and felt anger surge through my body. I thought: “I can fight him — he’s under the influence of drugs.” I rolled on top of him and grabbed the knife.
‘I acted so quickly it took him by surprise. I put it to his throat and screamed “Get out — now,” kicking the door open with my foot.
‘He shouted “Bitch!” and punched me hard in my left eye. But then he grabbed the knife and ran.
‘Though my head was swirling from the force of the blow, I managed to slam the door shut after him. I half-ran, half-crawled upstairs and rang 999.
‘The police arrived in minutes and officers with dogs started to comb the area.
‘I was in shock. My eye was almost closed and I was hysterical.’
Police took Daniela to a neighbour’s house and a forensic team spent two days searching her home for clues.
‘All that time I couldn’t sleep and couldn’t eat. My mind kept flashing back to the knife at my throat,’ says Daniela.
‘I kept thinking about how close I came to being raped and killed. I didn’t want to go outside because I wasn’t sure if the attacker was still out there.
‘His words “I’ve been watching you” kept swimming around my head. Any sudden sound made me jump and shake.’
Frightening: Daniela Vinci woke up with a torch shining in her face in her bedroom
Five days later, the police called to report a breakthrough. A local teenager had tried to top up his mobile phone using Daniela’s stolen bank card.
A trace on the phone led them to a squalid bedsit just ten minutes from her home, shared by three young men.
They were arrested and put in an identity parade of 27 men. Daniela instantly recognised her attacker from the line-up.
Mwaura was charged with trespassing with intent to rape, sexual assault, burglary, actual bodily harm and being in possession of cannabis.
Daniela — her voice barely rising above a whisper — says: ‘I lost almost a stone in weight. When the police asked if I was willing to appear in court as a witness, I thought: “I can’t let this man get away with this.” So I said I would.’
Mwaura had pleaded guilty to the first burglary, but not guilty to the second break-in. It meant Daniela had to stand in the witness box and be cross- examined. She says: ‘The police said I could give my evidence by video link or stand behind a screen, shielded from my attacker and the jury.
‘But I’ve nothing to be ashamed of. Why should I be the one who hides away? I fought for my life in my flat and I would fight for my dignity in court.
‘When it was his turn to appear in the dock, he was nonchalant. I thought: “This has almost wrecked me and it means nothing to you.”
‘When the foreman of the jury stood to give his verdict, my legs almost gave way. I was shaking uncontrollably. When he said “Guilty”, I wept.
‘The attack had changed so much — my home didn’t feel the same, sleep was a luxury denied me and I felt constantly uneasy whenever I was out.’
The court heard that Mwaura, who had come to Britain from Kenya with his parents, had previously robbed a 16-year-old boy and his 13-year-old sister at knifepoint.
Last week, he was jailed for seven years and four months for his latest crimes. Summing up, Judge Angela Morris praised Daniela’s courage and actions as ‘nothing less than miraculous’.
Daniela says: ‘I’m proud of what I did and am glad justice has been done. But the truth is I can’t stop thinking about what happened — it haunts me day and night.
‘I have nights when I can’t sleep at all because I’m scared to shut my eyes.
‘My home is no longer my lovely refuge. I’m being forced to move out because I can’t sleep easily any more.
‘I don’t know if anything will ever be the same for me or if I’ll ever be able to go out like the carefree, independent girl I once was.
‘It’s like playing back the scenes from a horror film over and over again in my mind. I don’t know if that terror will ever go away.’