Real Crime Returns

Monday, 22 June 2009, 9:00PM – 10:00PM

In 1992, young mum Rachel Nickell was murdered on Wimbledon Common in a crime that shocked the nation. Rachel was killed in broad daylight in front of her two year old son, the only witness to what would become one of the country’s most notorious murders.

This is the story of how it took 16 years to convict her killer, after an innocent man wrongly suspected of the crime was persecuted. It took a revolution in DNA technology for the police eventually to bring her real killer, Robert Napper, to justice.

Speaking for the first time since Napper was sentenced, Rachel’s partner Andre Hanscombe reveals how he has dedicated the last 17 years to rebuilding his and his son’s lives and how the toddler who witnessed the violent murder of his mother has grown into a young man.

The documentary features interviews with the police officers who reveal their recollections of the lengthy process to bring Rachel’s killer to justice, and presenter Mark Austin speaks to the criminal profiler involved in the controversy about the Nickell team’s focus on the wrong man.

Real Crime: Rachel Nickell also includes an interview with Colin Stagg, the innocent man officers investigating the case were convinced was the culprit, even after a judge threw out their case against him, which was built on an elaborate, ‘honey trap’ sting police operation.

And criminal experts and a childhood schoolmate provide a chilling insight into the background of Robert Napper, the man who was finally convicted of the murder.

Speaking to presenter Mark Austin, Rachel’s partner Andre admits that he struggled to come to terms with what life would be like for him and Alex without Rachel.

As his young son was the only witness, and with no obvious clues to the killer at the murder scene, Andre and police faced the difficult task of gleaning as much information as they could from the toddler in order to help police catch the killer

He says: “[The police] made it very clear to me right there and then that any information that Alex had would be absolutely crucial to them because they had virtually nothing to go on.”

When a description from Alex started a massive manhunt for Rachel’s killer, detectives working on a series of attacks in South East London which took place around the same time as Rachel’s murder recognised similarities with Rachel’s murder. The victims were invariably women with their children and were attacked while walking along a series of footpaths known as the Green Chain Walk. But the detectives on the Nickell case pursued a different line of enquiry and enlisted the help of criminal profiler Paul Britton.

Along with Britton’s profile, the police had an artist’s impression of the man they believed to have killed Rachel. When this was issued in a police appeal, four people phoned in suggesting the same name – Colin Stagg. Using an attractive undercover policewoman, who built up a relationship with Stagg, the police tried to elicit a confession and gather any incriminating evidence from him.

Paul Britton claims that he wasn’t looking for specific answers from Stagg; “My comment to the Police and the Crown, the QCs and others was that even if your suspect Colin Stagg goes all the way through this and at every step of the way meets every criteria that I have suggested would be present in the killer but not present in someone who isn’t the killer. If every single one of those is met that doesn’t make him a murderer.”

Despite this, the police were convinced that Stagg was Rachel’s murderer and made the decision to arrest him.

Speaking to the programme, Stagg now says “I just felt like I was being set up… there was not one scrap of evidence linking me to this crime or any crime because I hadn’t done anything.”

Stagg was charged with the murder and Rachel’s partner Andre, now living in France, recalls how he felt on hearing the news. “Relief that this was going to come to some kind of conclusion much earlier than many people had led me to believe. Confusion and bewilderment as well, because obviously it’s another whole process to try and absorb.”

While Stagg was awaiting trial at Wandsworth prison, Rachel’s real attacker murdered another young mother, Samantha Bissett and her four year old daughter in their home. Samantha was stabbed to death before being mutilated, while her daughter Jazmine had been sexually assaulted and smothered.

This latest murder meant there were three separate teams within the Metropolitan Police investigating the crimes of the same man: officers working on the Green Chain rapes, Rachel Nickel’s murder, and the murder of Samantha and Jazmine Bissett.

Detective Superintendent Mickey Banks on the Samantha Bissett enquiry wondered if her and her daughter’s killer and the Green Chain rapist might be the same man. He enlisted the help of criminal profiler Paul Britton, who had worked on both the Green Chain rapes and the Rachel Nickel investigation.

Banks linked up with officers on the Rachel Nickell team but says: “There was no way that you could persuade…the person in charge of that enquiry that anybody but Stagg had done their murder. There was a total blank on it. They had other evidence I wasn’t, I wasn’t privy to.….But they, you know, Paul Britton was convinced that Stagg was their murderer.”

The programme focuses on the role of Britton, who was criticised by Mr Justice Ognell for “pulling the strings… This operation was sustained in constant consultation with the psychologist, the police woman was acting under orders and the police in their turn were being guided by the psychologist.”

It features officers working on the Green Chain and Bissett cases claiming that he insisted Stagg was responsible for the Nickell murder and that it was not linked to the other crimes.

But when faced with these claims and criticisms, Britton tells Mark Austin that he always believed there was a link, but was felt compelled to bow to police pressure from senior officers convinced of Stagg’s guilt.

He says: “My view was that of course these are linked. And the view that was given to me was that…if I felt that my experience in these matters… was superior to that of the Metropolitan Police …and I took a view that was contrary to their crime analysts then it would be arrogant of me, and that they simply weren’t linked, it was as simple as that. And I had to accept that.

But Mickey Banks got the breakthrough he needed on Samantha’s murder. The police had been able to recover a fingerprint from Samantha’s flat, and when they checked their system, they found a possible match – Robert Napper. He was charged with murder and the attacks on the Green Chain walk.

Meanwhile Colin Stagg was released in September 1994 after the case against him was thrown out of court. It seemed that the identity of Rachel’s killer would never be known, until in 2004, scientific advances meant that police were able to recover DNA from evidence gathered from Rachel’s body 12 years earlier.

“We compared those components with a list of the profiles from the top 40 suspects and in going through we eliminated 39 of them including Colin Stagg. But the one person that they all matched was Robert Napper,” explains Roy Green from LGC Forensics.

Napper pleaded guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility. He was ordered to be detained indefinitely at Broadmoor top security hospital, where he’s been since 1995.

Napper had a troubled childhood in South East London. Professor Laurence Allison says: “[A] feature that is common in these sort of very violent men is that an early age and certainly pre puberty they’ve been assaulted by someone that’s very close to them. And in Knapper’s case we don’t know who it was but there are some indications that this person was someone that he trusted.”

Colin Stagg received an apology from the Metropolitan police, and has since received £700,000 in compensation.

Andre has dedicated the last 17 years to rebuilding his and his son’s lives and, in an emotional interview, says his son is his greatest achievement.

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