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Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 December 2006, 11:16 GMT
The task facing vice murders squads
By Chris Summers
BBC News

The murder of five women who worked as prostitutes has prompted the biggest inquiry in the history of Suffolk Police. What are the issues facing the officer in charge of the case?

Stewart Gull (with Jacqui Cheer)
Chief Constable - Alastair McWhirter (not pictured)
Assistant Chief Constable (Operations) - Jacqui Cheer
Senior Investigating Officer - Det Ch Supt Stewart Gull

In the spring of 1994, at the height of the Cromwell Street murders inquiry, the Chief Constable of Gloucestershire pleaded in vain for more money and resources from the Home Office.

His force was stretched to the limit, dealing with one of the most high profile murder inquiries since the war while trying to maintain its commitments to residents and businesses.

Gloucestershire soldiered on and eventually obtained enough evidence to convict Rosemary West of 10 murders.

Suffolk Police now finds itself in a similar position.

Before the project was scrapped earlier this year, there were plans to merge Suffolk with neighbouring Norfolk and Cambridgeshire to create an East Anglia Constabulary.

Team of officers

The thinking behind that change was that areas like Suffolk would be better policed by a bigger force, with more strength in depth and an ability to deal with more difficult crimes.

Cambridgeshire Police initially struggled to cope with the size of the Soham murders.

The Bichard Report, which came out in the wake of Ian Huntley's conviction for the murder of schoolgirls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, made a number of recommendations about how murders should be investigated and information shared between forces.

Half of these recommendations were implemented by the National Centre for Policing Excellence (NCPE), which is based at the Bramshill police college in Hampshire.

The report led to the development of guidelines, based on "core investigative doctrine" which all detectives are now trained in.

Police at scene
Police have appealed for clients of the women to come forward

Also set up in the wake of the Bichard Report was the Opsline, a 24-hour resource which is available for all British police forces.

The National Centre for Policing Excellence has appointed a Regional Operations Manager - who is at inspector level - to work closely with Detective Chief Superintendent Stewart Gull.

Mr Gull is the Senior Investigating Officer (SIO), in charge of about 100 officers working on the biggest criminal inquiry in Suffolk Police's history.

Hard work

Those 100 officers will include uniformed officers who will be doing the "donkey work" - the house-to-house inquiries in the Portman Road area of Ipswich, the checks on vehicles spotted in the area and the fingertip searches of the fields around the crime scenes.

They have been joined by detectives, in plain clothes, who will be interviewing friends and acquaintances of the victims, fellow prostitutes who work on the same beat, and of course the girls' other clients, who will be deeply reluctant to talk.

Other officers will be sifting through some 2,200 telephone calls that were made to the incident room during 12 December.

Det Chief Supt Gull has other resources to call upon.

Forces from across the eastern region are assisting with the inquiry, while 30 officers from neighbouring counties have been drafted in.

Many of these have specialist skills, including a Norfolk-based team of divers, who are scouring streams and brooks near the crime scenes at Nacton, Hintlesham and Copdock.

Tania Nicol, left, Gemma Adams
The bodies of Tania Nicol, left, and Gemma Adams were found

Within his own force there will be scenes-of-crime officers (SOCOs) who are responsible for preserving the evidence at the crime scene, photographing it and transporting it to the forensic science laboratories.

Much of the CSI-type work will be done by the Forensic Science Service. They will be swabbing body samples for traces of DNA which may have been left by the killer, or for fibres or other evidence which could prove crucial.

Suffolk Police will be throwing huge resources at this investigation this week in the hope of turning up a key piece of evidence which could give them a lead before the inquiry loses momentum.

They will be looking for CCTV footage showing one of the girls getting into a car, or perhaps an eyewitness who noticed some sort of commotion. They will also be waiting for scientific tests to be carried out which might give them a clue.

Checking sex offenders

Police have also begun checking the whereabouts of nearly 400 registered sex offenders in Suffolk.

But neither Gemma Adams or Tania Nicol were apparently sexually assaulted, which suggests the killer's motives may be more complex than first thought.

The third victim has now been identified as Anneli Alderton. Two further bodies have yet to be identified but police believe it is a "natural assumption" they are two missing prostitutes.

Suffolk Police's budget will certainly be stretched in the next few days or weeks. But one resource is available to the police for free - the publicity which the media is willing to give to the story.

"We have had a fantastic response from the public. We have received about 450 calls due to the media attention," said Mr Gull.

Publicity inevitably leads to witnesses and might even bring forward someone who knows something about one of the killings, or the killer himself.

It is that sort of break which Mr Gull needs.

Map showing where bodies were found
Gemma Adams: Went missing on 15 November, body found by a stream near Hintlesham on 2 December
Tania Nicol: Disappeared on 30 October, body discovered 8 December in Copdock
Anneli Alderton: Body discovered in Nacton on 10 December
Paula Clennell: Body thought to be hers discovered in Levington on 11 December
Annette Nicholls: Body thought to be hers found in Levington on 11 December

How police are hunting the killer

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