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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 November 2005, 05:20 GMT
Watching a murderess most foul
By Jackie Storer
BBC News Website

Ten years ago, Rose West was jailed for life for the murders of 10 girls and young women. Here, BBC News reporter Jackie Storer reveals what it was like to cover the "trial of the century".
25 Cromwell Street - house sign
Fred West murdered his daughter Heather in Cromwell Street

For seven harrowing weeks my colleagues on the press benches and I sat and listened to the most incredible story of depravity, sexual obsession and sheer evil.

None of us had an inkling about how bad it was going to be and how much these poor girls suffered.

Most were abducted from the streets, tortured, bound with gags or masking tape, sexually assaulted, murdered and cut up. One could only imagine how desperate their last moments on this earth must have been.

West suicide

Even in death, Rose West and her husband Fred could not afford their victims the dignity of a proper burial. Instead the bodies were dismembered and stuffed into vertical holes in the ground.

Fred and Heather West
His thick West Country accent evident, and speaking in the most matter-of-fact way, this cheerful little man described how he murdered and cut up their own daughter Heather
CPS:LINK HREF="" ID="4440128" STYLE="rightarrow">Detective publishes West book

Despite the fact that this was a joint venture, the jury did not have the chance to try Fred West - the undoubted perpetrator of two more murders than the 10 Rose was accused of.

He escaped justice by strangling himself in his cell at Birmingham's Winson Green Prison, 10 months before the trial was due to begin at Winchester Crown Court.

However, his ghost was ever present in the courtroom. One of the most chilling testimonies I remember was from Fred himself.

Unbelievable

In one of the many moments of high drama during the trial, a tape recording of his interview with police was played to the jury.

His thick West Country accent evident, and speaking in the most matter-of-fact way, this cheerful-sounding little man described how he murdered and cut up their own daughter Heather.

Rose West
Rose West was so ordinary looking
He said she had wanted to leave home, he lunged at her, strangled her and chopped her up with an ice saw. He finally buried her body under the patio. According to him, Rose was out shopping at the time.

I remember rushing out to file his exact words for one of the afternoon editions of my paper. Reading them back from my notebook to my colleague, who was copy-taking, it was impossible to believe this was a father talking about his daughter.

Another big moment came when a photo of a grinning eight-year-old, Charmaine West - the daughter of Fred's first wife Rena Costello (another victim) - was beamed on to the courtroom wall.

Over it was placed a skull found at the Wests' former home at 25 Midland Road, Gloucester. There was an audible intake of breath when it was clear the two were an exact match.

'Small house'

There were lots of times when I remember thinking: "There can't be anything else, I have heard the most evil things I am ever going to hear." But there would be.

One of the most powerful witnesses to take the stand was Fred's daughter Anne-Marie West. She told how she was raped by her father and sexually abused by her step-mother Rose.

Personally I still cannot believe one human could inflict such pain, terror and abuse on another

Hearing detail like that made you look and wonder at the ordinariness of Rose West.

She dressed soberly - from what I can remember - usually in a black jacket and with dangly gold earrings. She could have been anyone you might casually pass in the street.

Yet every day she and her husband stomached living in a house where they had tortured, murdered and buried their victims.

Even their home - the infamous 25 Cromwell Street - came as a bit of a surprise to me. It was just a small, nondescript end-of-terrace house.

Sanitised copy

Yet during the trial much was made of all the lodgers that stayed there and the comings and goings of Rose's "clients". A small hotel was more what I had in mind.

So did the trial affect me? That is a difficult one to answer.

Reporters were offered counselling during and after those seven weeks, but the only ones who showed any interest ended up doing a story on the fact hacks hadn't taken it up.

Charmaine West
Rose West killed her eight-year-old stepdaughter Charmaine

There were of course many things I heard during the case that my paper, in line with most respectable media outlets, never repeated because they were too horrible.

I would not have liked an adult, let alone a young child, to read some of the things I heard.

Keeping mum

Personally I still cannot believe one human could inflict such pain, terror and abuse on another. How could a parent kill their own flesh and blood? How come no-one staying in the house ever suspected what was going on?

And for the victims' families - how do you ever get over what has happened to your loved one?

I came away from the experience with a lot more questions than answers - and I had only dipped into this tale for the trial.

The only person who can give us the facts is Rose West. But she is locked up for life with no obvious chance of release.

In her mind she has nothing to gain by talking.


SEE ALSO
Surviving Fred and Rose
24 Feb 04 |  Magazine
Street of murder looks to future
24 Feb 04 |  Gloucestershire
Rose West 'drops appeal plans'
30 Sep 01 |  England

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