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.



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