Twenty years ago today, Frederick West was charged with two more murders: that of 18 year old Shirley Robinson, whose body was found during a police excavation at his property, and that of an unidentified woman who had also been discovered. By this point, he'd already been charged with the murder of his daughter, Heather, who had been the initial focus of the dig that began on February the 24th. There were more victims yet to be found, and terrible tales of horror to be uncovered regarding both Fred West and his wife, Rosemary, who had together raped and murdered at least a dozen women at the house in Cromwell Street. But for just one moment, let's step back and remind ourselves that for every criminal caught by the police, there's an officer who actually had to do the work of catching them.
The officer in this case was Detective Constable Hazel Savage. It was she to whom West had made his rambling confessions the day after the excavations began. She was far from the only officer working on the investigation and she wasn't the one in charge, but it was her doggedness that kept it alive. DC Savage had been involved in a child abuse inquiry into the Wests in 1992 which saw their remaining children taken briefly into care, and became suspicious when two of the expected offspring of Fred and Rosemary were nowhere to be found. The initial case collapsed, but Savage kept on collating information until she heard the family gossip that Heather was 'buried under the patio'. After all attempts to find Heather elsewhere were exhausted, Savage decided to ask for a search warrant to see if this story was really true. It wasn't; but only because Heather was buried in three pieces in different parts of the garden.
She wasn't exactly a newcomer to the job. She was a veteran with thirty years on the force, and she received an MBE for her role in bringing the Wests to justice. Unfortunately, it seems that she succumbed to temptation and contacted a literary agent with a mind to writing a book about her story; she decided not to go forward with the project, but the mere fact that she'd explored the idea led to her being suspended and moved on to other duties. In these days when serving officers can blog and publish with seeming impunity, needing no more than the fig leaf of anonymity to protect them, this does seem a bit harsh; but she should have left it until the investigation was complete and the criminals convicted. If she'd consulted her superiors first and waited until she'd retired - which she'd been putting off so she could see this investigation to its end - she'd probably have been fine.
(she wasn't the only one to be tempted by the cash on offer; the trial of Rose West would eventually be seriously hampered because so many witnesses had told all to various newspapers)
And now, to chill you to the bone, here's a collage of recordings of Fred West in various police interviews:
The case continues. We'll pick it up again later in the year, as the full horrors become clear.
(late correction in the early hours of March 1st: it turns out that West wasn't actually charged with these particular murders until March 2nd, according to the official timeline from Gloucestershire Police. It's too late to write another post now, so I'll have to let this stand. But that's what I get for trusting the BBC's 'on this day' feature. Oh, well, lesson learned: always do more research!)