I don’t read much in the way of more recent true crime but the one exception is those horrific murders carried out by Fred and Rose West. These murders were committed in Gloucester, the largest city to where I spent the latter part of my childhood and where I moved to when I first left home. I already lived in Jersey and was heavily pregnant when in 1994 the garden at 25 Cromwell Street was dug up to reveal the bones of young women.
In the intervening years there have been many books written and I thought I had read them all. Somehow I missed this one, from the perspective of Detective Superintendent John Bennett QPM, the officer in charge of the investigation.
This is an interesting read which takes us behind the scenes and gives some context to what the police knew, in contrast to what the media were able to reveal, and what information they were seeking. John Bennett also works hard to bring the victims and their families to the fore of the investigation, to give them the respect they were so cruelly deprived off when they met their fate at Fred and Rose West’s hands.
Although of course the book doesn’t avoid the murders it certainly doesn’t dwell unnecessarily on them. Instead we have a reconstruction of the house which once stripped of the lurid tabloid details is revealed to be far smaller than might be expected pretty much laying to rest any idea that horrific murders could occur without other adult residents being aware of the fact.
The book is well structured starting with the lead detective giving his recollection of how and why steps were taken to question Fred West further over his missing daughter Heather. The days that followed which included the key revelations made by Fred are all laid out in chronological detail.
Although the book hinges on the crimes of two utterly depraved individuals what it does best is show the reader how a murder investigation really is run. Some parts are devoted to gathering evidence the exact nature of the bagging for forensic purposes, the managing of the media, the questioning of witnesses and of course the horrendous job of talking to potential victim’s families. When you consider that this relatively small police force was handling one of the biggest murder investigations of the British Isles it gives you some idea of the sheer complexity of the task in hand.
John Bennett attempts to be candid about those officers he feels didn’t perform as he would have expected and you get the feeling that there was more on that score that could have been said. This along with tales of family occasions missed and touching tributes to his patient wife while providing some semblance of context became to my mind a little overblown by the time we’d heard various examples. I can’t be the only reader who was shocked at his wife’s reaction during Rose’s trial, particularly as we’d been told that he never discussed any details at home.
This book was definitely informative and in the main incredibly readable and provided me with another viewpoint of this huge murder investigation.