Saturday, February 23, 2008

Julie Burchill

If it's trash, how come it's so hard to write a book as good as this?

I've been infuriated and entertained by the writing of Julie Burchill for over 20 years now - brilliantly talented, and philosophically all over the place.

It's great pity her masterpiece Ambition (1990) the quintessential shopping and fucking novel is out of print. Long derided as being trash, it's a brilliant work that is pure fun yet captures the mood of the late 1980s as accurately as Jay McInerney. I read it in one sitting, passed it onto my flatmate, and found her in the kitchen a while later with one hand stirring the pot and the other holding the book open... It really was that addictive. The caption on the back gave details of the little back dress and the model: Teresa from Storm. Have a look for it in your local charity shop - it'll be the best 50p you've ever spent.

Perhaps on the back of Ambition's success (it was a bestseller in it's day) Julie wrote an introduction to the reissue of Jacqueline Susan's far inferior Valley of the Dolls (1966) so don't be surprised when Ambition is re-published in 2020 as a Penguin Modern Classic.

Julie's latest piece is the story of her attempts to be pampered and hopefully alleviate the symptoms of gout, a condition she cheerfully admits comes from years of hedonism. The article ends with a classic Burchill aphorism:

In the end, the pursuit of the self serves only to make one less of a real, individual, interesting person; the over-examined life is not worth living. It just feels longer.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Ipswich Murders Trial - The Final Day

Steve Wright's rented flat in London Road

Steve Wright has been sentenced to ‘a whole life order’ which means he’ll die in prison.

Since he was found guilty yesterday, there’s been a torrent of information that the media weren’t allowed to report while the trial was in progress. We’ve learned a bit more about the victims and lots more about Wright himself, a much more disturbed individual than he previously appeared with a long history of problem gambling, patchy employment, failed relationships and several suicide attempts.

His crimes have been horrible for all the friends and relatives who’ve lost loved ones – and of course for his own relatives too, some of whom sobbed their way through proceedings yesterday.

There are also mundane issues like what will become of the flat, where perhaps five young women were smothered? Presumably, the dark blue Mondeo that Wright took such pride in has been forensically examined to pieces. There's even a rumour that London Road will be renamed.

As predicted, the various pre-trial rumours have turned out to be bullshit, although my psychological profile of the killer doesn't seem a bad effort for an amateur. I took some pictures of Steve Wright's flat on Monday, and I'll add those to this entry later.

Blogging the trial has brought me into contact with a load of new people, and from the stats quite a few new readers. I’ve learned lots about DNA and micro-fibres and the differences between a real trial and the fictional ones on the telly. But it’s over and done with now, and I’m looking forward to going back to writing about anorak stuff like my old Porsche and rather dull holidays and films seen on a Sunday night.

I know far more about Gemma now she's dead than I ever did when she was alive, but for a while now I've been trying to remember the last time I saw her. It was a warm evening in the late summer of 2006. She was striding down Victoria Street heading towards London Road, wearing very high-heeled shoes that made a sort of ‘clopping’ noise on the pavement. Her strawberry blonde hair was brushed back over her shoulders and she was wearing her usual denim mini skirt and a little jacket.

Maybe it was the heroin, but she looked happy.


Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Ipswich Murders Trial - Day 26

I got the news a few hours ago that earlier this afternoon Steve Wright was found guilty on all five counts of murder. The judge will sentence him tomorrow.

A few random thoughts on the case and some of the issues raised:

The Trial

Steve Wright can’t complain about the trail process itself. It was conducted with scrupulous care, and unlike say the USA, Wright had the services of a first class lawyer to defend him. The judge’s summing up, which can be a cause of occasional complaint in the British legal system, seemed to be fair and balanced. Above all else, Steve Wright seemed to convict himself; everyone I spoke too said his performance in the witness box was a catastrophe; he seemed grudging and belligerent, but not in an innocent way.


The science of DNA fingerprinting and fibre analysis is hugely important to modern criminal justice. It seems almost impossible to murder someone and not leave some trace of the victim either on your clothing or your car or home or whatever. In fact so important has DNA become that ‘traditional’ forms of evidence, such as eye witness accounts and checking alibis seem old fashioned and second rate.

But DNA on it’s own needs to be compared to someone else’s DNA. In a way the police were fortunate that Steve Wright had foolishly stolen a grand total of £80 back in 2005, and as a matter of routine a DNA profile was taken. Imagine how many prostitutes he might have murdered had his DNA not been on the national database? In a narrow way he was clever enough to kill five women unseen and unheard, and dispose of their bodies without being seen. He also managed to hide or destroy all their clothing, which must be quite a bundle.

Should everyone in the UK have their DNA stored on a national database? Our public culture is wonderfully honest* but such a law would be a huge threat to civil liberties. Given the recent scandals around ID cards (which wouldn’t have helped catch Steve Wright at all) it’s difficult to imagine any government seriously attempting DNA samples for all.

Vulnerable Victims

This is perhaps the only area where some good has out of this shitty little story.

The victims were all young, addicted to expensive drugs, and almost completely outside normal society.

The Suffolk Constabulary did a fine job catching Steve Wright, and having called upon them several times myself over the years, I know that they are professional, friendly and efficient. But they can only enforce the law and morals as they stand now, and the law in this case forced these very vulnerable young women into areas not covered by CCTV, and basically left them alone and unprotected against the likes of casual rapists, sadists, and of course with the benefit of hindsight, Steve Wright serial killer.

One of the surprises of the case was that in 25 days of evidence we never heard so much as a word about pimps. I’d always assumed street prostitutes were ‘owned’ by tough nasty bastards who took most of their money and supplied their drugs, but did provide some measure of protection to their revenue stream. Maybe Ipswich is just too small for that to occur here, or maybe the pimp thing is a bit of myth. We did hear of boyfriends, but they seemed to stay at home or be elsewhere while their girls were working the streets. So alone or in twos or threes, away from CCTV cameras, it’s hard to imagine a more vulnerable group than the prostitutes of Ipswich, desperate for a new fix, harassed by the police and completely unprotected against any kind of aggression, let alone murder.

But here’s the good news, in the months since Wright’s arrest, Ipswich council, the police, and a very good local charity called the Iceni Project have combined forces to try and solve the problem. For a start, the police have instigated a zero tolerance policy on kerb crawling, and CCTV cameras now cover pretty much the whole of the red light area. Secondly, and this is important bit, the girls themselves have all been offered drug rehabilitation and financial support if they agree to stop street walking. I believe in many cases, the Iceni Project has managed to find them accommodation away from Ipswich and has arranged counselling and vocational training too.

Whatever the exact details, the approach has been a wonderful success. From about 30 full time prostitutes and another 20-30 ‘part-timers’ there are now somewhere between one and three (it depends whom you ask) street prostitutes in Ipswich. Personally I’ve not seen one in the red light area for at least four months, probably more like six or seven.

Hopefully other provincial towns will try the same approach, rather than the criminalisation/ASBO approach that only succeeds in pleasing the Daily Mail.

The Reason Why?

The biggest question the trial failed to answer, indeed the prosecution didn’t even attempt to answer was... WHY? Why did Steve Wright suddenly decide to go on a killing spree? Why at the age of 49, and not say… 39, or even 19 for that matter. It was obviously a lot to do with sex, and probably a whole load of stuff around the thrill of the hunt, deceiving the victim, and cleverly evading detection (not just by the police but by his partner, poor Pam). The posing of the bodies struck me as very significant, and yet I haven’t a clue what this posing means. Steve didn’t like beating or marking his victims, and maybe the posing suggests a kind of reverence for them; he wanted them to be a ‘pretty picture’ when discovered.

Perhaps in years to come some skilled psychologist will be able to get some of this stuff out of him, and society can gain some insights into Steve’s sad damaged little mind.

There’s one final act to come; the sentencing which takes place tomorrow. I’ll write my final entry on this case then.

*Yes it fucking is. Having lived for 6 years in France and nearly 3 years in the USA, I can assure you levels of corruption in this country are unbelievably low in comparison. Even squeaky clean Switzerland (where I lived for nearly 2 years) was worse than the UK in this respect. Yes I am aware of various scandals, and believe me, most would be considered so trivial in other countries they wouldn’t merit any investigation at all. C’est la vie.


The Ipswich Murders Trial - Day 25

The judge finished summing up today and sent the jury out to consider their verdict.

There was nothing in the summing up that we haven't already covered here, at least slightly, and my impression of the whole summing up is that it has been comprehensive, fair and balanced.

Now it's up to the jury.


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Ipswich Murders Trial - Day 24

Judge Justice Gross continued his summing up, which lasted the entire day.

As we’ve learned to expect, it was a complete factual summing up of the case; reminding the jury of each expert witness and the evidence they presented.

There was nothing new, but there were some details that had escaped me before. For instance Anneli Alderton’s body was discovered posed in a ‘crucifix’ position (which I knew) but that her hair was also laid out straight, and that the left hand was posed palm up, the right palm down. It suggests the killer took quite a bit of care to achieve the look he desired.

Annette Nichols was found in a similar position with her hair almost “symmetrically straight up.”

These two bodies formed a contrast to Paula Clennell who appeared to be dumped face down without any posing, with her hair caught up in brambles. I wonder if the killer was disturbed, and didn’t get the chance to lay out Paula in the way he wanted.

The rest of the summing up concerned the exhaustive DNA evidence, the equally detailed fibre evidence, the pathologists report, and Steve Wright’s testimony.

Tomorrow the judge will finish summing up the case, and the jury will retire to consider it’s verdict. It’s possible (although in my opinion unlikely) that we may even have a verdict tomorrow, or more likely on Thursday or Friday.


Monday, February 18, 2008

The Ipswich Murders Trial - Day 23

Justice Gross, the judge, begins his summing up.

He made some good points, about how the jury mustn't let their emotions guide them, how they must not judge the lifestyles of the victims, and to judge the case on the evidence they have heard not on stuff they have read on the Internet (!).

I'd rather hoped that this experienced official might be able to guide the jury as to what evidence (there is so much of it in this trial!) is the most important.

Instead, the Justice Gross delivered a careful and very through review of all the evidence but gave little or no indication as to it's relative weight. He seems either reluctant to do this, or prefers that the jury should decide for themselves.

Perhaps the most memorable part of his summing up was a list of the nine key points of the prosecution case. They are:
  1. That Wright picked up the victims in the order that they went missing and he seems to have been the last person to have see each of them alive.
  2. Wright was able to pick them up and kill them because his partner works nights.
  3. CCTV and vehicle number plate recognition evidence.
  4. DNA links between three of the women and Wright.
  5. Micro-fibres linking Wright to all five of the women.
  6. Various mad coincidences that probably aren't coincidences at all.
  7. The fact that the victims started being killed soon after Wright moved into his new flat in London Road, and have stopped dying since his arrest in middle of December.
  8. Two of the victims shed blood, traces of this blood were found on Steve Wright's clothing.
  9. Wright knew the places where the bodies were disposed.
It's a good summary, and presented in a simple list you can see the strength of the case.

Tomorrow, presumably the judge will sum up the defence case which challenges key points in that list.


Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Ipswich Murders Trial - Day 22

Timothy Langdale Q.C started his closing statement for the defence late yesterday afternoon, spoke for just over an hour and then continued today (Friday).

He does a good job in pointing out the nagging little doubts and uncertainties that accompany any case built entirely on circumstantial evidence. For instance:

The way the prosecution admitted several times that Wright may not have acted alone.

The fact that several prostitutes had sex with Steve Wright during his alleged 'killing spree' and were completely unharmed and didn't feel in any danger at all.

The fact that the number of prostitutes in Ipswich is small, so the chance of having sex with one the victims is actually quite high.

The strange way that all the victims had used powerful drugs recently before they died, yet there isn't a scrap of evidence linking Steve Wright with any kind of illegal drugs at all - as a user or a supplier, or as an expert in their use.

The way that two of the victims were found naked in water, whilst the other three were found on dry land in a different area, and two had been 'posed.' Is this really the work of the same killer?

There's no evidence that Wright took walks in the countryside, in fact apart from driving past the locations, there no evidence Wright knew them at all.

Wright is supposed to be a careful cunning killer, yet he apparently wears a high vis jacket when disposing of the bodies - it's hard to think of a worse choice of clothing for secretive activities at night.

Similarly, Wright seems a pretty ordinary sort of guy, yet he's somehow managed to conceal or destroy the clothing of all his victims, despite the most intensive police search for them.

Various witness statements (including the two I heard 'live' on Wednesday) that have victims alive and well when they should be either dead or about to be killed.

The fact that the fibre evidence consisted of a tiny sub-set from hundreds of fibres which haven't been traced.

Finally there's the troubling presence of Tom Stephens, DNA clean but otherwise eccentric and disturbed, with no alibi for the days when the girls went missing...


Around noon on Monday, the judge will sum up the case and hopefully put some weight on the various types of evidence heard.


Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Ipswich Murders Trial - Day 21

It's time for the closing arguments, and the defence has the advantage of going last. So it was over to Peter Wright to try and summarise the huge amount of the evidence the prosecution has gathered.

It's a tough job, and he does it well. He also reminds us of some facts that are so obvious it's possible to overlook them;

All the victims were young, slim, and had shoulder length hair. All were found relatively uninjured, and all had been striped naked. All had been asphyxiated. All had met Steve Wright the night they died.

Already we've got a lot of coincidence to set aside there.

What about Tom Stephens? Peter Wright is subtle enough to accept that Stephens' did make 'unusual and disturbing remarks' and that he has no alibi for the nights the girls disappeared. But he also points out that the DNA evidence shows a zero, and that in any case, the issue here isn't about Tom Stephens; it's about Steve Wright.

Peter Wright then goes on to list a whole series of 'coincidences' that link Wright to the murders.

For instance:

The fact that the victims only went missing when Steve Wright's partner was out at work. Nobody went missing when she was at home.

And at the end of each 'coincidence' he asks the jury:

"Singular misfortune or significant fact?

It's a simple rhetorical trick, but the cumulative power is impressive.

Peter Wright finishes a little before 4:00pm. Steve Wright might be finished too.


Friday, February 15, 2008

The Ipswich Murders Trial - Day 20

Working nights has its advantages, and on Day 19 I tried to attend the trial as a member of the public.

Damn it, all the places had gone by the time I got down there, so I went to bed and tried again on Wednesday – Day 20. This time I got in.

If you were to wander from one side of town to the other, you'd find that Ipswich is a surprisingly large place, but an accident of geography means the Crown Court is right next door to the red light area. To get to it from my house meant walking down London Road, walking down Handford Road past the corner with Burlington Road where so many of the victims stood waiting for the next punter, and then down Portman Road – the outer edge of the red light area. Cross into Sir Alf Ramsey Way (another favourite spot for hookers), take a left past the old football training ground and you’re pretty much there.

At the famous Oz obscenity trial held at the Old Bailey in the early 70s, even a man as unrestrained as George Melly claimed he was “intimidated by the architecture.” I doubt Good Time George would have felt the same in Ipswich Crown Court. A structure of glass and milk-of-magnesia white walls, when I passed through security it seemed strange not be confronted by a corporate mission statement and a row of computer cubicles. I’ve spent almost my entire working life in such sterile environments; bland as a CEO’s quarterly speech. To be fair, this building isn’t too bad. There’s a feeling of light and space (the sunlight helps), and it’s all clean and well maintained. It’s also inadequate for a trial of this magnitude.

Because of the huge media interest, there’s no space for the public in Court No 1. Instead, the adjacent Court No 2 serves as a media centre and a tiny public gallery. I felt better about not getting in the previous day, as the total number of seats was… 17. There are two monitors that show the scene in Court No 1, and the sound is piped in too. At the very back of the room, where the public sit, the picture on the nearest monitor was small and indistinct. It took a bit of squinting at the picture to realize that what seemed to be low partitions in the courtroom were actually rows of box files on desks. The sound was good though, and gradually things began to make sense.

Some random observations:

Almost all the media people are good looking and are well and expensively dressed. You get the impression that you’re seeing an elite section of the 21st century aristocracy – or maybe a selection of the Nexus Six range. Many of them clearly know each other, and it was easy to spot key points in the evidence because they all subtlety react to it – bodies lean a fraction forward, fingers reach for laptops and pens. The impression is that this lot are cleverer than you and better looking than you and they earn more than you, and that both you and they know this.

The two QCs were much less adversarial than years of TV and film drama (and a lot of Rumpole) had led me to expect. In fact for the shot session I observed, they didn’t exchange a single cross word.

The defending barrister, Timothy Langdale, is more impressive live than on the page. He’s a got a very good voice; articulate as you’d expect, but also friendly and calm. In another life you could imagine him as a BBC continuity presenter, or perhaps a psychiatrist. This is a man you instinctively like, which must be a huge asset in his profession. I was less impressed by Peter Wright, but in fairness it was the defence’s day, and he didn’t do much this particular morning. The overall impression was of two professionals, utterly at ease, doing their jobs with no bad feeling between them.

It was the last day of the defence evidence, and I missed Steve Wright – I couldn’t even see the space where the accused sits. I assume he was in court, but I don’t know that for sure. This was one of the disadvantages of not being in the court room itself.

The defence called two women as witnesses. There was a nice contrast between the Suffolk accents of both women, and the received pronunciation of Timothy Langdale. He asked good questions, skillfully leading them along in their short testimony.

The first was Kerry Land, a night shift worker (hail comrade!) who works at the 24 hour petrol station just down the road on the edge of the red light area. She’d worked there for years, and knew lots of the prostitutes as customers. They’d come to the station in the small hours buying chocolate bars or whatever (Jeez - shades of my student days in Manchester). Some would hang around for chat. She was positive that she’d seen Tania Nicoll, alive and well and buying a chocolate bar after 11:30pm when according to the prosecution she should have been dead, or about to be killed. Kerry spoke clearly and calmly, and I found her evidence entirely convincing. What was less convincing was the date – she’s worked at that garage for 11 years, and her shift pattern hasn’t changed much – can we be sure she’s right about the date?

The final witness was Helen Brooks, who works in the post office and who starts her shift at 5 AM (Feck. The things we do for money). Timothy Langdale had a nice way to introduce her evidence. After she was sworn in and had given her full name, he asked her to look at a short clip of CCTV footage.

“Do you recognize that person?” he asked.
Helen smiled and said "Yes, it’s me."

A brilliant way of putting a witness at ease, and also proving that she was indeed cycling to work down Burlington Road at 3:42AM on October 31st. Rather like Kerry, Helen had got to know several prostitutes by sight as she went to work each day. She was positive that she’d seen Tania Nicoll alive and well and talking on a mobile phone. Again, according to the prosecution this would be a time when Tania was supposed to be dead, or about to be killed, having met Steve Wright several hours earlier.

Both witnesses were excellent; they didn’t seem nervous or unsure and I found them entirely plausible. The defence could do with more of them.

Timothy Langdale and his junior Mark Fenalls ended with a series of written statements being read out to the court. Once again, they mainly concerned the eccentric (disturbed?) Tom Stephens and his antics. There was evidence of the Stephens taxi service. Evidence of Stephens telling sex worker Nicola Brown to lie about the time he last saw her. Stephens visiting the police and telling them that if he was the killer he’d strangle the victims. Most damningly of all, on another occasion he told the police he might have a split personality and was worried that he was ‘doing things’ while not normal.

I was fascinated, but the final statement undermined everything: Tom Stephens had been thoroughly investigated, “DNAed,” his car and house had been subjected to forensics and he’d been interrogated. And at the end of all this… no charges had been brought. Nothing. Not even soliciting or kerb crawling. Not good for the defence. Not good at all.

After the defence had finished, the trial was adjourned. This was great, as I knew after being awake for nearly 24 hours I hadn’t the stamina for a full day of proceedings.

In the coffee bar afterwards, through the charming and beautiful playwright Alecky Blythe, I got a chance to meet someone whom I’m very grateful too – Josh Warwick of the Ipswich Evening Star. Josh is one of a team of four who’ve been reporting the trail live as it happens on the Ipswich Star website. i've been using this feed, along with a few random news items from other media for the blog coverage of the trial. Josh and co have done a great job, and I’m pleased I managed to thank him in person – at least he knows he’s been ripped off. THANK YOU.

I was also lucky enough to be introduced to a criminal psychologist Professor David Wilson who is writing a book about the Steve Wright case. Some of the stuff we discussed is restricted (while the trial is on) so I’ll tell you about him another time. Suffice to say I found him very impressive and will certainly read and review the book here when it’s published.

The trial is drawing to close and I’ll update you later today with the closing arguments. Then it’ll be time for the judge to sum up, and for the jury to decide…


The Ipswich Murders Trial - Days 18 and 19

Apologies for the lack of reporting – I’ve been working in the small hours of the morning this week and haven’t really adjusted to it yet so I’m tired.

Prosecutor Peter Wright QC laid into Steve Wright’s story with gusto. I’m too tired to do more than report a few highlights here, as Wright’s story is so flimsy.

Anyone with a bit of common sense and familiar with the evidence could tear it apart. Wright does himself no favours with his grudging answers, that often consist terse phrases like “Apparently not,” and “It would appear so, yes.” He doesn’t seem to realise that he’s left the police interrogation rooms now and is on trial with a life in prison ahead of him if he doesn’t convince.

He doesn’t convince.

Perhaps the key admissions came on day 19 (Tuesday) when the trial resumed. Wright couldn’t explain how blood flecks from Paula Clennell came to be on the backseat of his Mondeo, and on his high-vis jacket. Paula’s face had a recent scratch on it.

The defence does it’s best.

The key individual is a man called Tom Stephens, who was well known to Ipswich prostitutes, and who knew all the victims. Amongst his more eccentric activities, he used to act as a sort of ‘friend’ as well as a client to many of them, and ferry them about in his car. He spent hours in the red light area and was always good for a cigarette, or a lift, or a loan. A tabloid even claimed he once held a party for several sex workers in his house in the village of Trimley Saint Martin (such an English name! – straight from the pages of John Wyndham or Daphne du Maurier). Trimley is close to where three of the victims were found.

For a time Stephens seems to have been the police prime suspect, and his behavior during the last couple of weeks of the trial was eccentric to the point of madness. He was giving interviews to journalists, leaving memorial flowers tied to lampposts, complaining of feeling suicidal, and visiting the police portacabin at the end of London Road to tell them his theories. Not surprisingly he under surveillance and was held by the police for two days. They also took his DNA, and gave his house the full forensic treatment.

The forensic treatment is key, as I suspect as recently as 15 years ago it might have been Tom Stephens in the dock, while Steve Wright managed to restrain himself and go back to piloting a fork lift truck. But today we have the hard science of DNA, and quite simply there was no evidence of him found on any of the victims.

If there is ever a film made of the Ipswich killings, the writer might portray Stevens as a figure of fun, a tragic/comedic clown, the character who’s stupid antics lighten up the flat winter landscape of Steve Wright and his victims. But Stevens is more sinister than that. The court heard statements from “Miss L” who met him through a lonely hearts column. When they had sex Tom suggested they use a “safe word” as he liked to pin her down with his hands on her neck. When she (surprisingly) decided Stephens wasn’t the man for her, she had to change her telephone number and he got a restraining order.


Friday, February 08, 2008

The Ipswich Murders Trial - Days 17 and 18

A dramatic day, as the defence begins and calls Steve Wright into the witness box.

Remember this is the man who said nothing in his own defence but ‘no comment’ for 8 hours and 10 minute spread over 10 interviews in 2 days...

I wish I’d been in court to see Wright’s body language and hear his tone of voice. Certainly on paper he seems lucid, and his story makes a kind of sense. Reports in the papers today say he gave his evidence ‘calmly.’

Timothy Langdale leads the defence and asks the jury to treat Wright as just another witness, albeit a special one. Surely a forlorn hope; it must be psychologically impossible.

Langdale starts Wright off with some easy stuff; his name, his address, and then some questions that sketch an outline of his life.

The product of a broken home, the unqualified young Steve left school at 16 and went to sea. It was during his time on ships that he was introduced to the thrills of commercial sex, presumably in some foreign port. For a while in the early 1980s he was a steward on board the QE2.*

In the 80s he left the merchant navy and worked in pubs, eventually becoming a pub manager in South London and East Anglia.** Along the way he married twice and had son by his first marriage.

Things started to go wrong in the early 00’s – Wright gambled heavily on horses and got into bad debts. For some reason he went to Thailand for 10 weeks around this time, and was declared bankrupt soon after his return.

The bankruptcy helped him to sort out his finances and he registered with a local job agency. He seems to have been a good worker; in the summer of 2006 he held down two jobs and doesn’t seem to have spent any significant time out of work.

But he’s not an honest man.

During the time of his financial troubles he got convicted for theft. That was the reason his DNA was on the database, and what enabled the Police to arrest him once they’d matched his DNA to at least two of the victims. Recently he’s also been convicted of speeding and lost his licence.

He met his current partner, Pam in 2000 – she’s 8 years older than him. She has a son. In answering several questions, Wright sketched a picture of steadily declining sex life for the pair of them, and by the time of the murders they were living separate lives with Pam working nights and Steve working days. They were still sharing the same bed.

So what about his knowledge of the victims?

According to Wright, he started off using massage parlours (there are at least two of these places in Ipswich) but discovered that street prostitutes were cheaper.

Then came the move (forced by circumstances) from one part of Ipswich into another – London Road. Wright claims that he didn’t know it was a red light area, which begins to strain credibility, although you seldom if ever see working girls by day (I heard that this was some kind of unofficial deal between the sex workers and the Police).

There were two other items in Wright’s initial testimony that were disturbing – he knows and has regularly driven both of the roads along which bodies were found, although he denies knowledge of the Belstead Brook area.

After this extended introduction, we get down to the details; Wright admits picking up prostitutes after indulging in his main passion in life – golf. From one every six months or so, Wright start using them much more when he moved to London Road. He says he got inspired by seeing the girls out on the streets when driving his partner, Pamela to work to start her night shift at around 10pm. This seems plausible.

He seems to have really rather enjoyed his whole ‘double life’ with the prostitutes; from the cruising around in the small hours while his wife was at work, to the selection of a suitable girl, to the negotiation over the price. Between early October and December 19th (arrest day) he’d had sex without ‘about 12’ different prostitutes, and occasionally had used the same one.

Of those few women, five are now dead.

The venue for full penetrative sex (so he claims) was his car the dark blue Mondeo, which he says he’s proud of. A key detail is his squeamishness about used condoms. He couldn’t stand touching them with his bare hands, so put on work gloves to chuck them out of the car window.


But it does explain the presence of semen and victim’s DNA on the gloves found in the car and the flat.

After a while, the joys of Mondeo sex started to pale or rather Steve suffered from cramp (another plausible detail). So he started driving the girls back to the flat in London Road. The flat seems rather well designed for getting girls in and out discreetly – there’s a parking bay around the back accessible from the flat by French windows. Strangely, Wright was always discreet getting the girls into the flat, and yet he let them out through the front door pretty much directly onto London Road.

Once in the flat, cramp or not, the sex was hardly cosy. He was worried about his partner, Paula ‘smelling’ the presence of another woman in their bed, so he used to spread his coat and high visibility jacket on the bedroom floor as a kind of blanket. Once again this is an interesting detail, as it explains the presence of victim’s DNA and fibres on both garments.

Another telling detail:

Convicted thief Steve was worried about theft; he never trusted the girls 100% when they were in his home and they weren’t allowed to wander. Presumably he never left them alone for more than a minute or two.

Sex in the house meant the girl stripped naked; in the car it was just pants down. It was just straight sex, no neck compressions, smothering, or activities like that. No violence either.

So what of the victims?

Tania Nicholl

Wright picked up Tania Nichol on October 30th 2006 and accepts the CCTV footage captured that night is probably him doing so. But she had some acne on her face (Tania was only 19) which was so off-putting that it killed his passion. I wonder was that acne a death sentence? Wright would say no, he merely so he drove her a short distance, told her he’d changed his mind, and dropped a (presumably slightly annoyed) Tania off where she disappeared into the night, to be found again weeks later, naked in a stream.

What of the fact that Wright’s Modeo was spotted by a number plate recognition camera a hour or two later, heading out of town? He said he suffered from insomnia and would sometimes go out for a drive… When directly asked was he on his way to dispose of Tania’s body, Wright replied ‘No way.’

Gemma Adams

Steve met Gemma on the 13th, or 14th or 14th and 15th of November 2006. The Police believe Gemma went missing late on the 14th or in the early hours of the 15th. They had sex in his car, and in a strange little detail, he accidentally set off the car alarm when disposing of the condom. They then drove back to Handford Road where Gemma got out and he left her there.

She was not seen again until weeks later her naked body was found floating in a brook. Gemma was prone to the odd spot or two on her face.

Wright’s reaction to hearing of the disappearance of the girls is extraordinary. To begin with he claims he doesn’t read the papers but seldom watches the news either. Then he’s vague about photographs the Police showed him when they stopped him for kerb crawling a few days later. Then he claims that in any case he wouldn’t have gone to the Police because of Pam.

I find this incredible; surely even the dimmest bulb would be intensely interested in a case where two women you've recently picked up and had sex with have probably been murdered?

Anneli Alderton

Wright’s not sure when he picked up Anneli but thinks it was probably December 3rd. They went back to the flat for sex, and Alderton was inside for about 20 minutes. He saw her out and never saw her again.

She wasn’t seen again until Sunday December 10th when her naked body, placed in a ‘crucifix position’ was found close to a road near Nacton, where the agency that employed Steve Wright is based.

A hour or two after Anneli left his flat, the cameras picked up the dark blue Mondeo heading out of town. Insomnia again, claims Wright.

Annette Nichols

Wright can’t remember when he had sex with Anette, the oldest of his victims aged 29. It was back to the flat for sex, probably the night of December 8th/9th. Traces of Annette’s blood were found on the high vis jacket, which Wright can’t explain. She was inside for about 20-30 minutes, and when she left she was fine.

She was less fine when discovered naked near a road close to Levington. Outstretched in a ‘crucifix position’ her body was within 200m of Paula Clennell.

Paula Clennell

Paula was probably picked up by Steve Wright on the evening of the 10th/11th of December, at the height of the investigation and intense police activity in the red light district. He can’t remember when or where he picked her up, but he doesn’t deny he did and they had sex in his flat. He says she told him she’d bitten her tongue earlier in the day, which presumably may explain the traces of her blood on his hi-vis jacket.

Paula’s naked body appeared to be hastily dumped by the side of the Old Felixstowe road near Levington.

There were a few other details; Wright claims to have slept with one other prostitute before his arrest on December 19th. The ‘no comment’ answer to every question was from him taking the advice of a solicitor who has since been replaced.


So ended the friendly questioning of Steve Wright.

Perhaps the best, maybe the only chance we’ll get to hear the man explain what the hell went on.

It’s a grubby little story of deceit and bad sex in domestic squalor or the sticky plastic of a car interior. For a moment or two, before the prosecution cross examination begins, it sort of flaps there bright and fragile as the striped tape the Police use when they first discover a crime scene.

And then Mr Timothy Wright begins his cross examination… I’ll tell you about later.


* One of the wilder stories that appeared in a tabloid after Wright’s arrest linked him with the disappearance of London estate agent Suzie Lamplugh in 1986. Allegedly Lamplugh also worked on the QE2 in 1980. Lamplugh has never been found (she was officially declared dead in 1994) and the case remains unsolved despite a 10 week ‘cold case’ review in 1999.

** Many media stories have pointed out that this pub is in the middle of the red light district there, and during the landlord Wright era, time a two or three prostitutes are went missing and have never been seen or heard of since.


Thursday, February 07, 2008

The Ipswich Murders Trial - Day 16

The prosecution tied up the final loose ends of its case today. Once again, we had forensics, but this time of the type the ‘Life on Mars’ team would recognise; human hairs and fingerprints.

Two of the hairs in Steve Wright’s car came from Anette Nicholls.

The car and Wright’s flat was tested (extensively I assume) for fingerprints; they found plenty but none belonged to any of the victims.

The toxicology report revealed nothing we didn’t already know – Heroin, Cocaine and/or crack-cocaine in all the victims apparently consumed shortly before death.

Finally there was a bit of detail about the interrogation. Wright was questioned for 8 hours and 10 minutes but in 10 separate interviews (average interview length 49 minutes). He answered every question with a terse ‘no comment.’

By 9:50am on Thursday December 21st 2006 the Police decided they weren’t going to get a confession and in any case didn’t need one; they charged him with all five murders.


Tuesday, February 05, 2008

The Ipswich Murders Trial - Days 14 and 15


The entire morning and much of the afternoon was spent on meticulous discussion of DNA evidence from various unpleasant fluid stains found on Steve Wrights high vis jacket and a couple of pairs of gloves.

Dr. Hau was back in the witness box, while Tim Langdale Q.C tried to challenge aspects of his evidence. The idea was to show that there was evidence of a third party or party’s DNA on the clothing. He was partially successful doing this with some of the very low level DNA which seems unreliable anyway. Then it was back to the prosecution council Peter Wright and yet more excruciating detail about stains and samples and matches and cross matches. Oh and the one in a billion number was mentioned. Again

Things barely improved in the afternoon; from DNA fingerprinting we went to collection and identification of micro-fibres; the tiny threads that comprise… threads actually.

Ray Palmer is the expert witness – a forensic scientist who’s speciality is the study of these fibres especially the teeny weeny kind. From his description, micro fibres are just about visible with the naked eye; presumably they fall into that blurred zone (ho ho) where optics such as magnifying glasses and microscopes really help, but aren’t essential, at least in finding the them. In practice, the scientists seem to have used a kind of sticky tape on the bodies and Wright’s clothes and had a look at everything that was stuck to the tape surface.

It’s astonishing just how painstaking and ‘invisible’ this evidence is; for instance on Anelli Alderton’s body, amongst a group of fibres there was a single fibre (just one!) of pale brown polyester from one of Steve Wright’s jackets. There were also eight blue polyester fibres from Wright’s tracksuit bottoms; the ones he was wearing when arrested.

And on and on it went – fibres found on the bodies and also Steve Wright’s clothes – remnants presumably of the clothes of the victims, none of which have been found. This trial is about as far from Agatha Christie or Raymond Chandler as it’s possible to get; it’s almost entirely an exercise in applied science, and the painstaking detail that scientific enquiry is all about…


Today was fibre day, with the continued minute description of the exacting processes and discoveries of Ray Palmer and his colleagues.

It was basically more of the same, until this afternoon with the astonishing (to me, anyway!) news that fibres were found in Gemma’s hair! That micro-fibres could remain in place after several weeks in running water seems miraculous. Mr. Palmer explained that these were close to Gemma’s scalp wrapped around the hair roots.

Even the technique of finding these fibres seems crazy; first they had to wash Gemma’s hair to wash out soil picked up from the stream bed (how is this done so as not to wash out the tiny little fibres you’re actually looking for?!? It’s so counterintuitive!

Anyway, after all this, they found one red acrylic fibre and 13 blue acrylic fibres still in the hair. The red one matches fibres found on Anneli Alderton and Paula Clennell. They’ve also been found in Wright’s car, and on his soafa. The prosecution is speculating that Wright had some kind of blanket or wrap that he possibly used to cover or even carry the bodies in. It’s never been found.

Tania Nichol spent even more time in the water than Gemma before she was found. Astonishingly (or maybe not, to those in the field) even her hair yielded some micro-fibres. Nine of them match fibres found (not directly from) Wright’s tracksuit bottoms.

And on it goes. Really it’s simultaneously the dullest spectacle in the world, and an astonishing lesson in applied science and the virtual impossibility of not leaving some evidence behind you. I wonder who’s DNA and clothing fibres are my hair, or yours? And every chair you’ve sat in today and sat on months ago probably has a micro-fibre or two or thirty from your clothes. Amazing.

To be fair, Tim Langdale makes some good points for the defence. To begin with, all the victims were active prostitutes and so exposed to a wider range of cars and stranger’s clothing than most of us.

Then he shows how it’s important to consider evidence as a whole, and not partially. It turns out that the 14 significant fibres found in Gemma’s hair are in fact a sub-set of the amazing total of no less than 216! Likewise there were 22 ‘evidence fibres’ found on Tania Nichol; carefully separated from a grand total of 360!

Suddenly this evidence, in least in isolation is a lot less impressive.

None the less, in it’s slow and methodical way, the prosecution is building an impressive case.


Sunday, February 03, 2008

The Ipswich Murders Trial - Days 12 and 13

“More of the same” summarises days 12 and 13 of the case. Thursday (Day 12) began with the excellent Doctor Nat Cary back in the witness box with more forensic pathology. Paula Clennell was the last body to be found, and from a forensics point of view the most important, because unlike the other victims she appeared to have been dumped in a hurry; Dr. Cary’s used the word ‘haphazard’ in contrast to ‘posed.’

Paula’s body had several sinister injuries; bruises to the neck, but also a scratch on the shoulder and small blood spots on her skin. The neck injuries seemed consistent with “a hand or hands or from the use of a forearm or crook from an elbow.”

Timothy Langdale QC is conducting Steve Wright’s defence. He didn’t dispute Dr. Cary’s evidence as such but he did suggest some alternative explanations for how it might have come about. All the victims had morphine in their bloodstream, several, including Paula Clennell) had cocaine as well. So perhaps a victim or victims died of drugs overdose somewhere, and was hurriedly dumped? Dr. Cary didn’t think so; in such cases the bodies are generally taken out and dumped in a nearby street.

Timothy Langdale starts to spar with Dr. Cary at this point; Dr. Cary concedes that is is possible that Paula Clennell died of a drugs overdose, but that “it is an unreasonable possibility.”

Next up is another forensics man, DNA profiling expert Doctor Peter Hau.

In previous entries I expressed a lot of skepticism around the probability figures of 1 billion to 1 (1000 x 1,000,000) associated with full profile DNA testing. But after some rather tedious research this afternoon, along with a conversation with a friend who is a professional statistician, I’m now willing to accept that number, at least with some of the samples collected from some of the bodies.

Perhaps the most damning piece of evidence Dr Hau gave all day was that there were no full DNA profiles of anyone on any of the three victims found on dry land; except that of Steve Wright. Gemma and Tania were naked and immersed in water for weeks which means they were ‘washed’ and so didn’t yield any DNA.

There wasn’t much DNA evidence from Wright’s car, the one he seemed to clean on a regular basis, inside and out, sometimes at 7:30 on a Saturday morning. But seven tiny spots (flecks) of blood were found in the boot; there was a 1 in 56,000 chance that this blood came from Paula Clennell.

Gloves were mentioned again – two pairs found in the driver’s door pocket. A weird detail; on one glove contained DNA from Sam Jefford, Anelli Alderton’s boyfriend.

And so it went on, Dr. Hau’s final comment on Thursday afternoon was that in his opinion Steve Wright was wearing those gloves (stained with own semen) when in close physical contact with Anneli Alderton and Anette Nichols.

Day 13, a Friday featured Dr. Hau once again. It’s striking how this case seems (so far) to revolve around painstaking sampling and testing for DNA matches. It’s also surprising what hasn’t been found. For instance, internal swabs on all the victims failed to reveal so much as a partial trace of Steve Wright’s semen. But as Dr Hau pointed out, it’s perfectly possible to use a condom to have sex with someone and leave no trace of semen within the vagina. Semen was found on Wright’s reflective work jacket but damningly again, so was blood from Annette Nichols (probability one billion to one).

Timothy Langdale QC was able to score a point or two for the defence; Anette Nichols had DNA from someone unknown on her body, as did Paula Clennell, and there is some chance that this DNA comes from the same individual.

Mr. Langdale did considerably better with the matter of the tiny bloodspots found in the car. Probably because of the extremely small sample size, Dr Hau had no luck with testing individual spots, so had to combine all seven in a diluted sample. This he admitted wasn’t standard practice. In a statement two weeks ago he claimed that you can’t normally tell if DNA has come from tiny blood flecks or some other bodily fluid. But a few days ago he changed his opinion and now thinks the DNA came from the blood spots found in the car. Timothy Langdale gave him a suitably hard time about this, pointing out that the car hadn’t been tested for saliva.

And so it goes on and on. The prosecution is amassing a huge amount of circumstantial evidence, most of which seems to hold up. Despite making some occasional points, the defence doesn’t seem to do more than challenge some assumptions and occasionally question some of the technique.

On Friday I had a serious talk with someone following the case who’s also been ‘live’ in the court on several days. She says much of the time the atmosphere is dry, dull and academic. She pities the jury having to sit through a lot of this stuff. She’s also heard that the prosecution will wrap up it’s case within the next few days. Then we’ll get a chance to see how the defence responds, and if there’s a plausible explanation or explanations for all this detail.

Dr Hau is back tomorrow.