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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 February, 2004, 11:55 GMT
Surviving Fred and Rose
By Georgina Pattinson
BBC News Online

It is 10 years ago this week that police started digging up the garden of 25 Cromwell Street in Gloucester. The impact of the events then are still being felt, as one woman who lived to tell the tale is finding.

Officers were looking for the remains of Fred West's daughter, Heather. But before long, they discovered that the builder and his wife, Rosemary, had murdered many more young women.

News of their arrests brought back terrible memories for Caroline Roberts, who escaped the Wests after being kidnapped, beaten, sexually assaulted and raped by them in December 1972.

They had told her: "We are going to keep you in the cellar...we will kill you and bury you under the paving stones of Gloucester.

"There are hundreds of girls there, the police haven't found them and they won't find you."

Memories of the ordeal at the hands of two of Britain's most notorious killers remain strong for Caroline, who has written a book, the Lost Girl, to show "good can come from even the most traumatic circumstances".

Prison suicide

Between them, Fred and Rosemary West tortured, raped and murdered an unknown number of women over a 20-year period.

Fred and Rose West
People were saying to me 'You're lucky to be alive'. I was thinking, 'No, I'm not'
Caroline Roberts

Fred West was charged with 12 murders, but committed suicide at Winson Green prison in Birmingham before his trial.

Rosemary West was convicted of 10 murders in November 1995 and is serving life.

Caroline Roberts - then Owens - went to work for the Wests as a nanny when she was just 16-years-old.

Feeling uncomfortable about their way of life she left, only to run into them a month later in Tewkesbury outside a pub.

The slender, 5ft 2in tall, teenager got into their car.

Promised to work

The attack that followed was horrendous. She was tied up and forced to submit to a degrading assault by both husband and wife.

Caroline was beaten with Fred West's belt and when she tried to call for help, Rose tried to smother her.

Looking back now, Caroline says: "I nearly gave up at the moment when the pillow was put over my head by Rose."

Rosemary West
Caroline said: "Rose betrayed me most, because she was a friend."

The following morning, she was raped by Fred. It was only after she promised to work for them again that she was let free.

She managed to escape when she went to the laundrette with Rose, and, telling her she wanted some cigarettes, walked away.

She got back home after a friend offered her a lift in his car. Later that day, her mother got the story from a friend she had confided in and called the police.

The pair were arrested and pleaded guilty to charges relating to indecent assault; Caroline could not go through the ordeal of giving evidence and did not pursue her accusations of rape. Although she had thought the Wests would go to prison, they were fined 25 for each charge they faced - a total of 100.


After the assault, Caroline suffered from depression and took an overdose. She began a self-destructive way of life, only halted when she had her first child in January 1980.

During the years that followed there were further setbacks, including the death of a boyfriend and a close friend's suicide. Then the news about the Wests' arrests, 10 years ago, broke.

The nightmares have stopped now but you are always thinking: 'What could I have done differently?'
Caroline Roberts

"People were saying to me 'You're lucky to be alive'. I was thinking, 'No, I'm not'," she says.

"I thought: 'Why save me? I'm no good'. Somebody died three months after my court case and she should be alive. It's a lot to deal with. It makes you sick."

Signs of affection

Despite her relief when West was found guilty, Caroline still had to deal with the aftermath. She was pointed out as the woman who had "slept with Fred West".

"The nightmares have stopped now but you are always thinking: 'What could I have done differently?'" she says.

Writing her book was difficult, partly because she hadn't taken into account the consequences of writing about her assault, she says. Her eldest daughter, now 24, has read the book, while her 15-year-old has read half of it.

But she has decided that her youngest children - Shannon, aged 10 and Liam, who is seven - are not ready.

But a decade on, and more than 20 years since her ordeal, Caroline says she is at last getting better. She counsels people struggling with drugs and alcohol and says: "I'm very good with helping other people with their problems."

But she cannot forget that she could have been one of the Wests' victims. "I survived when others perished and for that I am truly grateful," she says.

"I still don't trust people that much. I still have a few things to work on. I'm not good at showing my love for people. It's a hard thing to do."

The Lost Girl by Caroline Roberts is published by Metro at 16.99

Street of murder looks to future
24 Feb 04  |  Gloucestershire



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