Twenty years ago today, a terrible suspicion was about to be confirmed in the city of Gloucester as the police finally received permission to begin excavations at 25 Cromwell Street, in search of a missing woman called Heather West. Her father, Fred West, was called on his mobile by his wife, Rosemary, and told that the police were about to begin digging in search of Heather, who had gone missing in 1987 at the age of 16.
Fred West's response to his wife was that he hoped they wouldn't make a mess of his patio.
The Wests had already told the police they weren't worried about their daughter. She was lazy, she was a pain in the backside, and she was a lesbian. So what if she vanished? Girls leave home and drift off into prostitution all the time, don't they?
But it wasn't just this that had led the police to the Wests' door. In May, 1992, one of his other daughters had told friends at school that her father had raped her. By August, the story had reached the parents of the friends, and the police were notified. West was charged with rape, with Rosemary as an accomplice. Their children were placed in foster care. The case collapsed when the main witnesses declined to testify in June the following year, and the children were returned.
Nor was this the first time the Wests had been in trouble. Fred had first been arrested for a sexual offence at the age of nineteen. In 1965, he'd been driving an ice cream van when he ran over and killed a four year year old boy. In 1972, Caroline Roberts, who worked for the couple as a nanny, reported she had been raped by both Fred and Rosemary, but could not go through with the ordeal of the trial.
Everything else had happened in secret.
The next day, the police would find human remains under the patio. Fred West didn't wait for them to dig up his daughter: he simply got into a police car and told a detective constable: "I killed her." He was taken to a police station, where he began a rambling series of confessions that swiftly turned into denials a few minutes later, then became confessions again as the news of the discovery of human remains came back to the station.
But the discoveries were more troubling than anyone could have supposed. Because the bones the police found did not belong to Heather West.
We'll be coming back to this story in March.