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Inside the Cromwell Street murder investigation

fred-and-rose

Much has been written and broadcast worldwide concerning the crimes committed by Frederick ‘Fred’ and Rosemary ‘Rose’ West. The 1994 Cromwell Street murder investigation, also known as the “House of Horrors” investigation, was a unique and demanding serial murder case.

From the outset of the investigation in 1994, surmise and speculation concerning the scope of their crimes, as well as when, how, and why they were committed, has run rife. Since then, some writings, documentaries and dramas include inaccurate accounts and information in support of theories and even fabricated events.

A detailed, accurate and factual account of the investigation – without any room for speculation or opinions – was necessary to redress these myths and inaccuracies. It was also important to make known the problems and issues the investigators faced, and reveal how every conceivable obstruction was met, dealt with, and overcome by the team of police, forensic specialists and subsequently astute legal professionals. The “meticulous” way it was conducted was referred to in the commendation given by (now deceased) Justice Mantell following the conviction of Rosemary West. This investigation is regarded as a “textbook example” and it has been utilised and continually referred to in training for police and other criminology professionals around the world. 

No one could have predicted or foreseen that the culmination of a missing persons search in February 1994 for the eldest daughter of Frederick and Rosemary West was, in a matter of days, to result in a mammoth murder investigation. It required organisation, coordination, innovation, management, care, and compassion throughout and in the years after. The subsequent shocking revelations of abuse, murder and depravity committed, and some of the public sector failures revealed, were the result of a close professional relationship between social workers, County Council legal representatives, and the police. A shared concern was a sexual abuse investigation which failed the previous year when the West children refused to give evidence against Frederick and Rosemary. However, one daughter was not traced and interviewed – this was to be the catalyst that brought the downfall of the Wests.

The horror of the discoveries that unfolded resulted in what is best described as a “media feast”. As the investigation continued under the eyes of the world’s press, some journalists acted reprehensively, unashamedly and in competition with open cheque books under the guise of “public interest”. This behaviour frustrated the investigation’s progress and added a financial cost. More importantly, media coverage threatened the investigation’s integrity in achieving and presenting evidence, and as a result almost caused the trial of Rosemary West to be halted. Justice Mantell had already decreed that in this event there would be no retrial, and Rosemary West would have been freed.

However, on 22 November 1995 a jury unanimously convicted Rosemary West of 10 murders.

By John Bennett

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