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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 November 2005, 05:14 GMT
Remembering 'trial of the century'
By Chris Summers
BBC News

On 22 November 1995 - exactly 10 years ago - serial killer Rose West was jailed for life for 10 murders after the "trial of the century".

Rose West
Rose West has been told she will never be released
The term "trial of the century" is something of a cliche and in the 20th Century several dramatic court hearings could lay claim to the title.

But the trial of Rose West at Winchester Crown Court in the autumn of 1995 certainly lived up to its billing.

I covered the case as a reporter for Rose West's local evening newspaper, the Gloucester Citizen, and there is no doubt it was the biggest trial in the paper's history.

From the beginning the outcome - that she would be found guilty - was never in doubt, certainly as far as we hacks were concerned.

But each day was packed full of drama and tension as the defence, led by the peerless Richard Ferguson QC, pulled out all the stops in an attempt to win an acquittal.

1945: William Joyce, known as Lord Haw Haw, guilty of treason. Later executed.
1957: GP John Bodkin Adams acquitted of killing two patients
1966: Moors Murderers Ian Brady and Myra Hindley guilty
1969: The Kray brothers convicted
1979: Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe acquitted of attempted murder
1981: Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe jailed
1995: Rose West given 10 life terms

Outside the court there was a huge media circus with satellite vans and journalists from all over the world.

The trial led the news bulletins on many evenings and every person who stepped into the witness box appeared to have some gem ready to impart. Many of them appeared only too well aware that what they said could end up as a soundbite.

I remember one particular day when one witness, Kathryn Halliday - a former lesbian lover of Rose - was asked by counsel why she kept returning to 25 Cromwell Street when she was being abused by the couple.

"I was very, very low and vulnerable," she said, "It's like a moth to a flame. The moth burns itself but it comes back until it really singes its wings and can fly no more."

Human drama

Moments later there was a break in proceedings and as the reporters dashed out to file their copy for the next day's papers one hack muttered: "You couldn't make this up".

He was right.

The facts of the case and the human drama which unfolded in the court was far more gripping than any fiction ever dreamt up for TV and film.

One witness, Janet Leach, collapsed moments after giving evidence and another attempted suicide while waiting to testify.

Ironically, the trial ran almost simultaneously with the OJ Simpson case in the US, which was televised.

Goodness knows what sort of ratings the Rose West trial would have got if they had allowed it to be shown on TV.

Cromwell Street
25 Cromwell Street was completely erased by the local council

Having said that much of the evidence was unsuitable for family newspapers or daytime TV, dealing as it did with child abuse of the most horrific kind and grisly details of some of the most disgusting murders ever committed in this country.

Many was the Friday night when I returned to Gloucester to be asked by my colleagues for the details which the paper had been unable to print.

As the weeks went on and the evidence against Rose piled up she became more and more desperate.

It is widely thought - although Mr Ferguson refuses to discuss it even now, due to client confidentiality - that he advised her not to give evidence on her own behalf but she overruled him.

The defendant: Rose West is in HMP Bronzefield and has been told she will never be freed
The judge: Mr Justice Mantell retired last year
The prosecutor: Brian Leveson QC is now a judge and is currently in charge of the Anthony Walker trial in Liverpool
The defence counsel: Richard Ferguson QC is still going strong at the age of 70 and has no plans to retire.
The detective: Detective Superintendent John Bennett retired in 1998. He has just published a book on the case.

In the event he was proved right as she was a disaster in the witness box.

The jury were given an insight into her petty, spiteful character and when she lost her temper and showed flashes of anger, under cross-examination by prosecutor Brian Leveson QC, you could almost see the jurors making a mental note.

When the verdicts finally came in she remained as impassive as ever.

Sentencing her, the judge, Mr Justice Mantell, said: "If any attention is paid to what I think, you will never be released. Take her down."

She was taken to the cells and the media circus rolled into action.

Rose West is currently languishing in a cell in a new prison, Bronzefield, near Ashford, Middlesex.

She remains in denial and shows no signs of ever admitting to her heinous crimes.

Whether she will, like Myra Hindley, gradually open up and admit to her role remains to be seen.



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