[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Monday, 5 April, 2004, 09:10 GMT 10:10 UK
What happens to the houses of horror?
By Sean Coughlan
BBC News Online

25 Cromwell Street
The house in which Ian Huntley murdered two girls in Soham was discreetly demolished at the weekend.

To make the symbolic erasing of the house even more complete, the rubble from the site was taken away to a secure site to be crushed before a final disposal.

Although it will not remove the memory of the murders, the decision to flatten the house is one way of addressing the question of what to do with buildings that are irrevocably associated with a terrible event.

"It would have been wholly inappropriate to keep the building," says Cambridgeshire County Council spokesman, Simon Cobby.

And he says that as soon as it became known that Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman had been murdered in the house it was clear that the building would have to be demolished. The building had already been screened off and trees planted to reduce its visibility - and it is expected that the site where the house once stood will be levelled and grassed over.

Ian Huntley's house has been demolished
The families of the two young victims will have a say in what next happens to the site - but Mr Cobby suggested that it might be that the space is simply left empty. It isn't a site that anyone would be likely want to use - and it isn't a place for a commemoration.

Getting rid of the building will be seen as a way of letting the village move on from its harrowing memories of the murders.


The demolition of 5 College Close in Soham follows the pattern set by another notorious address, 25 Cromwell Street in Gloucester, the former home of serial killer Fred West.

Soham house
The house in Soham will be replaced with an empty space

This house, with so many macabre associations, was bought by the local council and flattened in the autumn of 1996 - with the rubble of the property taken away to be ground up so that nothing was left.

The space which the house had occupied, and where the victims had been buried before the arrest of the Wests, was turned into a walkway.

The decision to get rid of all physical traces of the house was presented at the time as a way of expunging the sense of evil linked to the place - and on the assumption that no one would want to live in a place with so many grim associations.

But that hasn't stopped the sale of another former home of the Wests, in Midland Road, Gloucester. This sold at auction in 1997 - and was then sold again in 2000 to a buyer who wanted to rent it out.

Souvenir hunting

The decision to crush the remains of the Cromwell Street house was taken in part because of concerns that there might be a ghoulish form of souvenir hunting, with people wanting to keep some part of the notorious building.

Cromwell Street
Fred West's house in Cromwell Street has been replaced with a walkway

These concerns might be valid, because there have been cases of such grim trophy hunting. It has been claimed that the Cromwell Street address was entered by some locals who took patio slabs from the garden, after the police had closed the house down following the arrest of the Wests.

One of the young men who took part in this ghoulish raid, and who now wants to remain anonymous, says that the slabs were used to make a barbecue - but which was never used.

Accepting this was in "bad taste", he says that going into the garden of Cromwell Street happened when he and other local youths were "worse for wear" after a night out drinking.

But the property to which the patio slabs were taken was later sold - and presumably the current owners could still be in possession of them, without any knowledge of their origin.

'Buyer beware'

How much a house buyer should be told about the history of a property was at the centre of a court case in February - when a couple sought compensation after finding that their home had been the scene of a killing of a child.

John Christie
John Christie's home at 10, Rillington Place was demolished

The murder had taken place 20 years before - and the couple, Alan and Susan Sykes, had only found out about the history of their house by accident when it was mentioned in a television programme.

But the court ruled that there was no legal requirement for sellers to give that kind of information about a house.

While sellers are supposed to tell buyers about disputes with neighbours - there is no obligation to give them details of a "house of horror" history.

There are other such houses still standing, which have been at the centre of high-profile murder cases. Two properties where the serial killer Dennis Nilsen murdered his victims are still in occupation - in Muswell Hill and Cricklewood in north-west London.

One of the most famous addresses in Britain's crime history is 10 Rillington Place - the west London home of murderer John Christie, who was hanged in 1953.

The street was re-named in an attempt to remove the association - but the house was demolished in the 1970s as developers made way for the building of the Westway road into London.

Such unhappy memories can prove too difficult for anyone to live with.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific