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The BBC's John Thorne
"It was one in one billion chance that they could be wrong"
 real 56k

Friday, 29 September, 2000, 12:08 GMT 13:08 UK
DNA catches killer 23 years on

A man has been sentenced to life imprisonment 23 years after committing murder.

Ian Lowther pleaded guilty to the murder of Mary Gregson after advances in DNA technology linked him to the death.

Mrs Gregson, 38, from Saltaire, near Bradford, West Yorkshire, was killed as she walked to work along the Leeds-Liverpool canal towpath in August 1977.

She was beaten, sexually assaulted and strangled. Her body was found early the next morning dumped in the River Aire.

Police interviewed 9,000 people, but were unable to catch the killer.

The case was reopened last year when advances in DNA technology meant a genetic profile of the killer could be compiled.


A technique, known as DNA Low Copy Number (DNA LCN), allowed scientists to go back and generate a DNA profile from an old semen stain originally found on the clothing worn by Mrs Gregson, a cleaner at a mill.

The court was told that the chances of Lowther, a 47-year-old van driver, not being responsible for the sample were one in a billion.

Mary Gregson
Mary Gregson: Killed 23 years ago

Mr Paul Worsley, QC, prosecuting, said: "This was a particularly brutal murder which at the time involved expensive police inquiries but all in vain.

"But the police never close the file in an unsolved murder and their tenacity has been rewarded in this case.

"The husband, mother and father of the dead lady all died never knowing that the killer would one day be caught."

Mr Worsley said Lowther, who was 24 at the time of the attack, had been interviewed by police shortly afterwards but had been able to convince officers he had not been responsible.

Attempts to carry out scientific tests on the semen stain on Mrs Gregson's clothing in 1977, 1988 and 1995 had proved unsuccessful.

But after advances in DNA technology, the police decided to approach men seen during the initial investigation and asked them to provide a mouth swab which was then compared with the DNA profile.

Lowther, of Derwent Avenue, Baildon, Bradford, voluntarily gave a swab when officers called at his home in February this year.

"He was the 532nd man to be seen this year. He was not the first or anywhere near the first on the police list," said Mr Worsley.

Simon Lawler QC, defending, described the attack as "10 minutes of total brutal madness".

He said his client was a shy, placid and quiet man who had not re-offended in the years since the murder.

'Long arm of the law'

Lowther, now a grandfather of four, was sentenced at Sheffield Crown Court on Friday.

Judge Michael Mettyear told him: "It was a wicked and brutal murder accompanied by an indecent assault.

"All this loss and tragedy to satisfy a few moments' lust.

"Thank goodness for advances in DNA profiling, thank goodness for the determination of the police and thank goodness that the arm of the law is long."

Mrs Gregson's sister, Judith Sykes, speaking after the court proceedings, said the past 23 years had been "terrible and stressful" for the family.

"My family has never come to terms with Mary's death and this was made worse by the fact that we never knew who was responsible.

"Mary can finally be laid to rest knowing that her killer has been caught, and we can get on with our lives."

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29 Nov 99 | UK
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