Hanratty would be convicted after a trial lasting almost four weeks but his execution marked the beginning of a forty-year journey of cries of a miscarriage of justice, media frenzies, legal arguments, criticism of the police, a referral to the Criminal Cases Review Commission and finally a Court of Appeal ruling in 2002 when DNA evidence would finally put an end to the furore; he was indeed guilty.
For over thirty five years one person remained silent. Despite being pilloried by the media, Valerie Storie withdrew from the limelight and tried to live a normal life. Secretly, however, she was drafting the contents of a book and writing hundreds of notes.
The Long Silence is, in essence, Valerie’s posthumous autobiography, explaining for the first time every explicit detail of the ‘cat and mouse’ drive, as Michael and Valerie tried on over twenty occasions to deter and thwart the apparently indecisive Hanratty.
The following extract describes the moments leading up to the events on that fateful night in August 1961 that turned her life upside down...
Valerie’s shopping basket rested on the back seat.
It was full of her personal effects including her handbag, a wallet and a purse, a few pound notes and coins pushed inside them. Michael’s duffel bag containing freshly laundered clothing rested next to it. A brown, check car rug was spread out; another small, personalised feature of the rallying Morris.
They had been here on a few occasions before, to make love or simply to spend time alone together. But tonight, they were talking. They had finished the planning for the weekend’s rally, Valerie’s maps folded away in her shopping basket. What was going to happen to them? Were they to marry? Was Michael actually going to leave his wife and two boys? Where was the money going to come from? He was a scientist at the laboratory and being a talented mathematician occasionally taught evening classes at St Albans Technical College, so extra money was coming in, but it nevertheless worried him. With some justification it seemed, since Michael had a tendency to spend willingly rather than save.
They were, though, generally relaxed talking in their cornfield. They had never been disturbed before and it was easier to talk here rather than anywhere else. They kissed only once. How much time had passed since they had pulled into the field is not absolutely clear since neither was paying particular attention but, Valerie would later estimate, after about thirty minutes their private conversation was disturbed. The two were facing each other, their arms resting on the backs of the seats as they spoke quietly when there was a tap on the driver’s window.
Valerie’s immediate instinct was that it was the farmer coming to find out what they were doing and to tell them to get off his land. It was not yet dark, but twilight had set in and visibility was not perfect. Michael wound down his window, only halfway, when a gun was thrust through the gap, its muzzle pointing directly at them.
‘I’m a desperate man. This is a hold-up,’ a man’s voice said.
What Valerie then saw surprised her. The man was immaculately dressed. Through the window of the car and despite the fading light, she could clearly see that he was wearing a suit and tie with a white shirt. She was able to see only the body of the man between his waist and shoulders, but his smart appearance seemed at odds with his threatening behaviour. The sudden intrusion did not seem real. None of it made sense.
With the gun still pointing at them, the man said, ‘I have been on the run for four months. If you do as I tell you, you will be alright.’
Extracted from The Long Silence: The True Story of James Hanratty and the A6 Murder by Valerie Storie, the Woman Who Lived to Tell the Tale by Paul Stickler