Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Ipswich Murders Trial - Day 11

In contrast to the past two weeks of weirdly random witnesses and their bits and pieces of evidence, today we had a single witness called Doctor Nat Carey.

Doctor Carey is a home office pathologist, and for the first time I felt the entire trial was on solid scientific ground. No stupid and insulting figures of “a billion to one,” no squinting at poor quality yellow orange CCTV footage, no dim criminal boyfriends with their inept testimony.

Instead we had solid forensic pathology, of the type at least as old as Sir Bernard Spilsbury. Doctor Carey dealt by the victims in the order they were discovered:

Poor Gemma was found in a few feet of the cold water in Belstead Brook. Because of the time she was immersed in the water, Gemma’s fate is something of mystery. Like the good scientist he undoubtedly is, Doctor Carey began to fudge.

Peter Wright QC: There is evidence to the effect the deceased was seen in the early hours of the 15th of December. How did the state of the body correspond with the time of death?

Doctor Carey: [the body was] ...entirely consistent with death on or around the 15th of December, but death a few days afterwards was also possible.

This answer might be expressed in less esoteric circles as “15th of December or anytime up to a few days afterwards; I’m not sure.”

Then there was the cause of death; drowning or suffocation? Doctor Carey didn’t know; Gemma either drowned or was put in the water at most a few hours after death.

Gemma was only 5ft 2”, which surprised me, until I remembered the ridiculously high heels she used to wear – I now realise to compensate for being short. She was slim and weighed less than 9 stone – frankly I’m amazed she was even that heavy, I’d have guessed as low as 8 stone myself.

There was a red patch about 6cm in diameter around the bridge of the nose. And very slight bleeding into the white of the left eye. Most telling of all, and we’ll come back to this, was the fact that Gemma’s lungs showed signs of over-inflation – a sure sign of death by asphyxia.

But what in turn caused the asphyxia?

Doctor Carey started hedging again – no direct evidence of drowning but downing possible, no direct evidence of smothering but smothering possible, no direct evidence of compression of the neck but compression of the neck (due to the flexibility of young cartilage) remained a possibility. Even a drugs overdose (morphine as a product of Heroin) remained a possibility. This is boring realistic science, and Doctor Carey’s honesty and refusal to be led up the certainty path was impressive:

This is a negative autopsy. There was a lack of anything obvious that caused her death and I had to conclude that the cause of death was un-ascertained.

You don’t hear that in the films. Ever.

There was more of the same when it came to the second body, that of Tania Nicol. Tania was in the water the longest; she went missing on or around October 31st but her body wasn’t found until December 8th. Dr Carey found:
  • Signs of asphyxiation
  • Significant amounts of morphine (from Heroin)
But unlike Gemma, clear signs of violence, or at least rough restraint; a bruise to the inner right upper part of the right arm, and another on the back of the knee. Disturbingly, the prosecution suggested that this bruise might be caused by someone kneeling down on the knee itself, while (presumably) Tania was on the floor, perhaps fighting for breath.

Despite this, Tania’s death remains a mystery; Dr Cary suggested that because of the effects of a high dose of Heroin, more normal signs of a struggle when being suffocated were missing.

Finally there was a ton of evidence from the last three victims, found in the open air, completely naked, and relatively quickly after they were killed. Anneli Alderton was found on her back with her arms outstretched in a crucifix position.

Here at last, you felt Dr Cary was more confident and had something to work on. Swabs were taken for DNA evidence. There was also the curious fact that the body was dark brown in colour, perhaps Dr Cary speculated, as a result of ‘overhanging vegetation’ falling on it.

I think he means leaves.

There were plenty of small signs of injury on Anneli’s body; most ominously bruising to the neck, bruising to the left arm and bruising to the shins. You can wish and hope that Gemma and maybe even Tania slipped away in a blissful Heroin induced trance, scarcely aware that they were being smothered, or drowned or whatever.

Dr Cary denied us any such comfort with his report on Anneli. Once again, the tell tale signs of suffocation were the over inflated lungs, this time with air bubbles on the surface of the tissue. Anneli had probably been raped while she was dying, or immediately before; there was a nasty bruise around the vagina.

Annette Nichols body was also carefully placed, and whoever did that also laid her long hair out straight on the ground pointing upwards. Thankfully there were fewer signs of trauma, except for some small scratches. Yet again we heard of those tell tale hyper inflated lungs, and little sign of how they were denied air. Dr Carey suggested ‘neck compression’ as the way that shows the least trauma. Yet again there was the Heroin by-product Morphine in the body, as well as traces of Cocaine and Methodone.

The last victim was Paula Clennel. A tiny little soul, she weighed less than 7.5 stone despite being 5ft 5”. Her body was dumped face down, and showed no signs of being ‘displayed’ like the preceding two. Sadly there were plenty of signs of traumatic injury; A pattern of bruises on the neck, scratches elsewhere, even small blood spots. “Irregular marks” (whatever those are) on the mouth, chin, nose and side of the neck. Cause of death? Suffocation - most likely due to compression of the neck.

Dr. Carey is back tomorrow. So far his evidence has been cautious, rigorous and entirely plausible.

But how, beyond reasonable doubt, to link it to Steve Wright?


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Ipswich Murders Trial - Days 9 and 10

It’s strange how the prosecution presents tons of rather detailed circumstantial evidence; there’s an odd lack of the narrative that court dramas on film and television have led us to expect.

Forgive me if I show in some detail what I mean:

On Monday, the prosecution started with CCTV evidence of the last sightings of victims Anneli Alderton and Tania Nicol followed by sightings of Annette Nichols and Gemma Adams.

Then we’re given evidence of Steve Wright’s work attendance, and that of his partner (not his wife) Pamela Wright. Pamela worked night shifts at a call centre, so was effectively out of the way when boyfriend Steve was cruising the red light area.

Then we’re given evidence from the neighbours and landlord that the Wrights had only moved into the flat on London Road in September. There’s some evidence of how Steve used to clean his car, a dark blue Ford Mondeo, regularly.

Then we go back to CCTV images in the company of car identification anorak Andrew Wooler. I suspect me and Andrew would hit it off quite well if we were ever introduced; he is described as “a vehicle identification expert from the Transport Research Federation.”

There follows some really rather boring evidence where Andrew describes how he came up with a shortlist of six cars to match the rather poor image in a piece of CCTV footage. There’s even a discussion of the relative positioning of the numberplate on the Saab 96 hatchback as opposed to Ford Mondeo MK III model. This is getting just a tad anoraky even for me. Slightly more relevant seems to be the positioning of the tax disk on the Mondeo, and the ‘christmas tree’ dangly that hangs from the interior mirror.

By ten past four it seems the judge (possibly not a car enthusiast) has had enough, or perhaps senses the jury has. The trial is adjourned to Tuesday.


The detail above might seem excessive, but it’s actually a pretty short précis of the detailed evidence the jury has heard. I doubt I’m the only one to feel rather confused by this mass of seemingly disconnected detail.


Tuesday morning and we’re back to witness statements beginning with neighbours reporting car washing frequency. Perhaps the only slight sinister piece of evidence comes from gardener Alfred Smith; he saw Steve Wright cleaning his car outside the flat at 7:30AM on a Saturday morning. It struck him as slightly unusual…

PC Ailsa Newman had some interesting evidence. She was with a colleague driving an unmarked police van in the red light area on Friday December 1st, which is after Gemma and Tania had disappeared. At 12:40AM they noticed a dark blue Ford Mondeo driving rather slowly and decided to investigate. At the wheel, alone, was the owner Steve Wright. He denied knowing he was in a red light district (new to the area, which was relatively true) and claimed he couldn’t sleep and was ‘out for a drive.’ The Police officers thought differently and warned him he’d be done for kerb crawling if caught again…

In by now typical prosecution way we moved on to evidence from the Police divers who searched (waded) the little stream below Burstall Bridge and eventually found Tania Nicoll’s body some distance downstream. This is an impressive piece of solid Police work, as there must be miles of river, stream and lake in the low lying East Anglian countryside around Ipswich. Presumably in the course of the enquiry they searched a great deal of cold stinky water.

The day finished with two surprises. First, that the Police had actually interviewed one of the victims, Paula Clennell in the course of the enquiry about the first victim Tania Nicol. It was a rather sad little portrayal of a typical professional relationship that exists between colleagues everywhere. Paula had her beat, Tania had hers, and they would occasionally share a cigarette and have a chat. Interestingly, her last sighting of Tania featured a client in a silver car, a Mercedes or an Audi.

The day finished with account of the actual arrest of Steve Wright, at 4:45AM on December 19th. Strangely, Wright appeared to be awake with the tele on, but showing no picture. They took him to Stowmarket Police Station. I remember that morning well, the end of the road opposite Wrights house was full of police and forensic investigators when all I wanted to do was drive to work.

The next day, and the day after, Wright was questioned for a grand total of 8 hours and 10 minutes. To each question he replied “No comment.”

Make of that what you will.


Monday, January 28, 2008

The Case So Far

I spend a while over the week-end reviewing the evidence so far, and the likely direction of the case.

Firstly, this seems to be shaping up to be a grinder rather than a Hollywood spectacular; no surprise witnesses, no tearful confessions, no shock CCTV footage, no ‘smoking gun.’

Instead, we have loads of circumstantial evidence. This includes the state of the art forensic evidence, particularly the DNA ‘fingerprinting’ that has revolutionised crime detection in recent years. The prosecution is also presenting tons more traditional evidence; such as witness statements, CCTV footage, telephone records and work schedules.

There seems to be an awful lot of this evidence, and the prosecution case is built on a sort of relentless accumulation of small details; one after another, none of which is of itself significant, but accumulated together make up a big disturbing picture.

As for the defence, the situation seems far from hopeless.

Despite heavy Police pressure, Steve Wright has maintained his innocence and hasn’t confessed to any murder. Contrast this to well known British serial killers such a Peter Sutcliffe, Fred West, or even dear old John Christie.

Wright also admits having known and having had sex with four of the five victims shortly before they were murdered. At a stroke, this makes a lot of the extraordinarily accurate DNA evidence redundant, along with much CCTV footage.

The prosecution isn't sure whether Wright had an accomplice at least some of the time, and they have no motive.

So what evidence will prove crucial? For now, the most damning evidence has been:

Semen-stained gardening gloves found in Wright's car had traces of Annette Nicholls and Paula Clennell’s DNA.

A different pair of gloves and a high visibility jacket that Police found in Steve Wright’s house. Paula Clennell’s blood was on the jacket and the gloves and blood from Annette Nicholls was on the jacket.


Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Ipswich Murders Trial - Days 7 and 8.

Various witnesses spoke on Wednesday, building up a picture of the lifestyles of the victims and scattered sightings of them just before they disappeared.

'Chaotic' is the word, used more than once, that sums up the lives of these young women. As always with eye witness accounts, some of the evidence is confused and contradictory. We've got a man in a 4x4, which almost certainly isn't Wright. We've got numerous sightings of Wrights car in the red light district at around midnight and the early hours of the morning.

Perhaps most interesting of all were the glimpses of complicated relationships between the sex workers and their clients. Is a taxi driver who offers an attractive young lady a free lift, then sees her a few weeks later and does the same thing, then has a sporadic sexual relationship with her and buys her breakfast in cafe a true client? Or a friend? Or a fake friend? Or even a boyfriend?

It seemed to illustrate how complex real-life is, and simplistic various approaches to prostitution are - were these girls victims or canny manipulators, or simply making a series of random transactions with a group of men they more or less knew?

More witness statements are due today.


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Ipswich Murders Trial - Days 5 and 6.

There was a heavy Police presence at the end of the road yesterday morning with three officers outside Steve Wright's house (the windows have been boarded up for months and the whole property has a slightly derelict look about it).

Further down the road were more officers, and those dinky little cones that fit in back of Police vehicles. I suppose I should have taken a picture for the blog but it didn't feel appropriate at the time.

An hour or two after I left for work, the jury, lawyers and the judge turned up in a coach. They didn't enter the building, or even get off and have a look around outside. After a ten minute pause they went off into the miserable saturated gray countryside of scrubby woodland and swollen streams; the sites where the bodies were found just over a year ago.

Back then some said the murders were a sign of society's indifference to a female underclass.

I'm not so sure - all of the sites the jury visited yesterday had little 'shrines' to the victims. The site where Gemma's body was discovered even has a tree planted on the banks of the stream.

Everyone in Ipswich was horrified by the attacks and the lifestyles of the victims.

Today the jury returns to the court, where the first witnesses will be questioned.


Friday, January 18, 2008

The Ipswich Murders Trial - Day 4

The prosecution wrapped up it’s opening statement yesterday – more forensic DNA type stuff, followed (wisely) by the admission that they won’t be putting forward a motive. Motive is always tricky with serial killers, they often can’t explain it (or won’t admit it) themselves.

Timothy Langdale QC is leading the defence. As expected, Steve Wright admits having sex with four of the victims but denies killing them.

It’s going to be interesting to see how the prosecution makes it’s case when it’s up against this unusual defence. How to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Steve Wright is the killer? Most of the DNA evidence supports close physical contact but doesn’t actually show murder.

There is one other piece of circumstantial evidence that the jury will know. If the killer isn’t Steve Wright, then how come the killings stopped the moment he was arrested?

Today everyone takes a hard earned rest, while matters resume on Monday when the jury gets a morbid little field trip to the patches of scrubby woodland and streams where the bodies were found.


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Ipswich Murders Trial - Day 3

Day 3 was the day the trial actually started.

Proceedings were delayed while the original jury was dismissed after one of their number felt ill or something, so the original 10 men and 2 women were replaced with 9 men and 3 women.

I’d have been crazed with rage if I were a member of the original 12, and was then dismissed because some idiot failed to declare an illness…

Anyway, what did we learn today?

Firstly, a major problem for anyone reporting or blogging this case – the accused, Steve Wright, is being prosecuted by Peter Wright Q.C. Just to add to this bonkers coincidence, the journalists seem to refer to Steve Wright’s partner as Pamela Wright. On first and second readings I assumed they are married, but if that’s the case, then why not refer to Pamela as his wife?!?

Steve Wright living with Pamela Wright (no relation) being prosecuted by Peter Wright Q.C (no relation) – sounds like a trailer for one of those hysterically unfunny ‘screwball’ comedies that take up time before the main feature.

Hysterically unfunny sums up much of the prosecution case today.

The most sensational suggestion was that Wright may have had an accomplice. This was yet another rumour doing the rounds during December 2006, but I ignored it and frankly forgot all about it until I heard it today. It’s rather ominous for the prosecution case, as it suggests uncertainty, or least a degree of doubt about some of the evidence they are presenting. A cast iron case would surely know if the accused had an accomplice or not.

Another surprise was a degree of ritual in the way the bodies were left; Annette Nicholls and Anneli Alderton were left naked in a ‘crucifix’ position, arms outstretched.

Finally, it may be that the key to the prosecution case is in the last victim, Paula Clennell. Paula's body was dumped in a hurry, possibly by someone startled to find Police at the scene of the Nicholls and Alerton bodies. The claim is that there is DNA and fabric evidence linking Steve Wright and his car to the bodies of Annette Nichols and Paula Clennell.

There's also a claim that the odds of this DNA belonging to someone else are "a billion to one." A suspiciously large and round number methinks....


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Trial of Steve Wright - Local Rumours

There have been a number of rumours about the case, both during the days of the murders, and then later.

In almost all cases, the person telling the story will say something like:

"My neighbour's brother is in the Ipswich CID and he says..."

This is classic urban legend stuff. None the less it'll be interesting to see how many of these stories (if any) turn out to be true. In no particular order:

1) Gemma Warns the Police

A few days before she was killed, Gemma went to the Police with concerns about one of her regular clients. He'd suddenly started asking her rather weird questions like 'Would you like to be famous?' and 'Do you want to be known to millions?"

As someone who knew Gemma a little bit, I can certainly imagine her being sharp enough to do this. But I can't imagine the Police did not act on this evidence.

Prediction: Absolute bollox.

2) The Killer Shaved his Victims Before Disposing of the Bodies

Early on in the investigation, rumours were circulating that the killer was shaving the body hair from his victims before disposing of the bodies. I also heard a variation of the story that claimed he was shaving their heads as well.

I really don't know what to think of this story, although I wonder what condition the bodies of Gemma and Tania would have been in after being immersed in water for several weeks - perhaps some of the hair had gone anyway?

None the less it's an interesting story, and I heard it from several people.

Prediction: True.

3) He Killed in Norwich Too.

The Ipswich killings were merely a chapter in a longer book - in fact the killer used to live in Norwich and killed people there for years before moving to Ipswich.

This seems a variation of the old Ipswich/Norwich rivalry (Norwich police are incompetant they don't realise they have a serial killer on the lose), together with a thin coating of fact, in the team investigating the murders must have been in contact with their colleagues in Norwich and kept them informed in case there was a wider dimension to the killings.

Prediction: Utter bollox.

4) It Was All a Mistake

The killer (who slept regularly with prostitutes and enjoyed their company) enjoyed a sexual fantasy that he was strangling a woman. He often used to gently put his hands around the prostitute's throats while making love to them, and they were used to this and happy for him to do it.

One night, with the lovely Tania, something went wrong and the killer actually found himself strangling her. Before he could stop, his first victim was dead. Overcome with remorse, but also crazed with excitement, the killer can't stop himself and kills over and over again until caught...

I rather like this story, not least because it explains how a 'safe' regular punter can change into crazed serial killer seemingly overnight.

Unfortunately, it has that all-too-neat quality of popular psychology. We want to understand serial killers, and we want to do so in terms brief enough and simple enough for use in the shorthand that is conversation. The reality is that most serial killers remain complete enigmas - even they don't understand why they did it.

It also ignores the facts (such as we know them!) that both Gemma and Tania were not strangled. Or at least the Police made no such claim they were. They also claimed they weren't sexually assaulted. But there were in water for a long time - forensics get much harder when the evidence has literally been washed away.

Prediction: False

5) A Petrol Station Checkout Girl Led the Police to Their Suspect

It's 3:30AM and a car drives up to the petrol station. The solitary man inside buys some petrol, but also tokens for cleaning his car, inside and out! Sure enough he proceeds to clean his car, very throughly indeed. The checkout girl has never ever seen anyone do this before, and his behaviour strikes her as suspicious, bordering on mad. Unless.... Scared now, she' notes the car registration number and calls the Police.

I like this story a lot - it smacks of carefull, organised killer of the early days of the investigation, meticulously covering his tracks. But it also smacks of fear and paranoia, and a basic stupidity.

Sadly, I've also heard a variation on the same theme, whereby it's the killer's neighbours who raise the alarm after he's seen vacuum cleaning his car at 3:30AM. Of course it's possible that he cleaned his car more than once late at night, once in the petrol station, and at least once outside his house.

Prediction: Maybe True

It'll be interesting to see how many, if any, of these stories are true.


The Trial of Steve Wright - Day 2

There was quite bit of coverage yesterday, but it was rather uninformative.

The media do seem to realise that their conduct might influence the outcome of the case, so the coverage was factual rather than sensational.

The main images on telly were the faces of the five young women murdered, and footage of a white prison lorry (presumably with Wright being the sole occupant) along with a police car escorting it front and rear as it drove to the court.

I don't know how they got him from the truck into the court - perhaps in some yard around the back, as I didn't see any of the court reporter's standard 'blanket over the head' or the 'jeering of a hostile crowd' routines.

The jury of 10 men and 2 women was selected yesterday, and today (Day 2) will be an admin day with no hearings. So the case proper starts tomorrow morning...


Monday, January 14, 2008

The Ipswich Murders Trial Starts Today

What must be the biggest trial ever at Ipswich Crown Court begins today.

Steven Wright, described by one radio station as a "lorry-driver," by a newspaper as a "former pub landlord," and by a different newspaper as a "fork-lift truck driver" and yet another as a "former steward on a cruise liner" is accused of murdering five young prostitutes.

I knew one of the victims, a very thin rather pretty extrovert called Gemma - very slightly and was interviewed four times about the killings. From the beginning of the inquiry the Police suspected it was someone local, and sure enough Steve Wright's house is at the end of the road, less than 100m from my place.

So... for obvious reasons I'm going to be following this trial closely, although the media's performance so far doesn't impress. Steven Wright worked at a number of different jobs in his 49 years; picking and choosing a job seemingly at random seems sloppy.

It's also worth remembering that Wright is technically as innocent as you or me, yet has already served over a year in prison before being tried. The delay seems excessive, even for a complex five-murder case.


Thursday, January 10, 2008

That's Entertainment....

Saturday morning - chuck the dirty clothes into the washing machine, check my e-mail, and then off to the bank to put a Christmas cheque into the savings account. But I'm six minutes too late (it's past noon). Feck.

Down to the post office sorting depot where a package (hopefully a Christmas pressie) is waiting for me. But I'm a day too late and it's been returned to sender. Feck.

Dawdle back home, but pass the football ground on the way back, and already there are a couple of police around, and that slight but unmistakable atmosphere of a home game. I walk into club shop; Ipswich versus Premier League Portsmouth, 3rd round of the FA Cup. £20 secures me a rather good ticket just below the press box up high in the Britannia Stand, right on the half-way line. Another £6 secures a blue acrylic scarf with the words Ipswich Town and the badge of the cart-nag probably a Suffolk Punch.

Back at the flat the washing cycle is nearly done. I watch Paperlillies on YouTube and iron until 2:30pm. I'm wearing two pairs of socks, my tracksuit bottoms over my jeans, two sweaters, hat, and gloves. And the new scarf. I should have stayed in Spain.

The game is great and it's interesting to see just how good the likes of David James, Sol Campbell, and Kanu are. Ipswich go down to 10 men after a harsh sending off (it looked worse live than on the replays) and Nugent (I think) scores for Pompey. So it's 1-0 to the visitors and Ipswich are out of cup once again. Feck.