MANHUNT Colin Sutton

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Over the last few months I’ve spent a lot of time traveling for work and have started to listen to audio books. Not the usual fiction I love reading, but real life accounts and memoirs.

A few months ago, a TV series caught my eye, Manhunt staring Martin Clunes. The true story based on the book MANHUNT, the memoir of Retired Detective Chief Inspector, and Senior Investigating Officer, Colin Sutton.

Having watched, and enjoyed the series, I went onto Amazon to look for the book, but it also gave me the opportunity to use a credit to buy the audio book. It was one of the best decisions I’ve made so far this year to download the audio to my iPhone.

The file is just over 9 hours long and is narrated by the brilliant Peter Noble, the perfect person to give Sutton a voice.

The account starts with an early memory from Sutton about why he became a Police Officer. Heading for life in Criminal Law he was sat doing work experience with Defence Counsel. Although every criminal has a right to a defence, Sutton quickly realised this is something he could not do. In fact, he decided he wanted to get justice for all of the victims of crime and decided against a, probably more lucrative, carrier in Law and decided to join the Police.

The story then jumps to the point where he returns to the Met as DCI of one of the Major Crime Teams having spent some time in Shire forces.

One of the first cases he picks up is a murder. A woman is found battered to death in Twickenham. She is quickly identified as the French woman Amelie Delagrande.

That is the starting point to one of the biggest criminal investigations the Met has carried out.

DCI Colin Sutton, acting as SIO, directs his team in an investigation which leads him to link the murder to that of Marsh McDonnell.

Once that link was made Sutton began to think that there may be other murders that were also linked and recorded an action for his team to look into any unsolved serious assaults and murders that fitted the pattern.

Suttons tenacity to detail found him some critics in the force, and maybe in his own team, in that he will leave no stone unturned and run down every possible piece of evidence. It was this tenacity that led to the breakthrough in the case though. The insistence that every piece of CCTV be found and watched, the insistence that every vehicle in the are caught on CCTV be identified.

More crimes started to come to light which may have been connected to the murder of Amelie, and one of the crimes in particular allows the story of one of the bravest victims of crime I have ever heard of being recounted.

Kate Sheedy was knocked over by a vehicle which then stopped and reversed over her. Her injuries were horrific, but it didn’t stop her phoning for help, give good factual evidence to the Police, and ultimately give evidence in court about the man who was eventually charged with the murders of Amelie and Marsha, and the attack on herself.

The man was Levi Bellfield, a man who is more notoriously remembered for killing Milly Dowler.

Colin Sutton recounts the story of his team’s investigation into the murder of Amelie and how it spread to incorporate many other serious crimes. It shows the working life of a detective working a serious crime, the sacrifices that have to be given, the emotions it evokes and the damage that can do to people and relationships professional and personal.

It lays bare Suttons though processes, which at times, although logical, must have been frustrating to some that worked with him.

It shows the all consuming effect investigating a serious crime can have on people, and in this case the serious crimes just kept mounting up the more they looked.

Once they had identified Bellfield, they were certain they had their man but did not have enough evidence to arrest him. One section of the book looks at how they put him under surveillance but the questions was for how long, and what happened if he committed a crime whilst they were watching him. Intervein in its early stages and show their hand before they had enough to charge him on all of the other crimes? What a decision to have to make.

This is not a spoiler because we all know what happened to Bellfield so I can talk about it. The worries and concerns about getting information and further evidence following his arrest. Interviewing him in a way that they can out wordsmith him and trap him in his own words.

The worry of the SIO, and his team, about taking evidence to the Crown Prosecution Service to see if they could proceed with one, some, or all of the crimes they want to charge Bellfield with.

Ultimately the trials and tribulations, the emotional rollercoaster of the trial. Years of work put in front of a Judge, and Twelve people from the “Clapham Omnibus”, and waiting to see if you have done enough to get the conviction that you know you deserve because, without doubt, this man is guilty.

What did surprise me was how Collin Sutton Felt after the trial. Not immediately because he felt the pride and joy that anybody in his position would have felt, but in the months afterwards with a few years left till retirement.

This is not just the story of Collin Sutton. It is a true reflection of his character that he includes many people in his memoir, some for outstanding praise, some for criticism.

He has no hesitation in showing admiration for his team, his peers, even if sometimes some drove him to distraction. He heaps praise on some witnesses, on the remarkable mother and father of Amelie, and shows his admiration of Kate Sheedy and her bravery in giving evidence.

He relates his frustrations at some previous investigations, that if carried out properly may have led to Bellfield being identified and arrested much earlier. He does not hold back at showing us his thoughts and frustrations with some Senior Officers within the Met and other forces. The fact that Bellfield was eventually convicted of the murder of Milly Dowling was more down to Sutton and his team than the actual SIO investigating her murder.

What he does is tell the truth, no filters, just the truth.

For those of us living in the naive belief that this country doesn’t have a problem with serial killers, “that’s an American thing” is something I often hear opined. This book will introduce you to one that terrorised London and the home counties for years. It was just that, until Colin Sutton came along, no one realised there was a serial killer on the loose.

The crimes that he committed, and that are laid out in this book, are unfathomable to most.

Unfortunately they won’t  come as a surprise to those working in the Police and some of their partner agencies.

This book hooked me for many reasons. Not least in how any things I empathised with. Like Colin Sutton I won’t work for a defence team, I have been asked many times but always politely turned them down.

As an expert witness I have sat in Court with Prosecution teams and seen the torment they go through during a trial.

I have stood on the stand giving evidence and felt the eyes of the defendant boring into me during murder trails.

I have never seen those feelings so well recounted as they are in this book.

This is the story of a criminal investigation into one of England’s most notorious killers. But it is so much more than that.

It’s the story of the man who shouldered the burden of responsibility in a professional and personal manner.

It’s the story of the victims and their suffering

It’s the story of a Monster Amongst Us.

It is a fantastic listen as an audio book, and soon the book will sit amongst my reference books in my office.

56 The Story of the Bradford Fire Martin Fletcher

56 The Story of the Bradford Fire

Martin Fletcher

bradford fire

Those of you that know a bit about me will know that I have more than a passing knowledge of fires and fire investigation, so when you read this blog you will know that it also comes with a healthy degree of expertise and knowledge.

I picked the book up last week and had read it within 48 hours, then I read it again over 3 or 4 days, just to make sure I hadn’t misread anything. This is without doubt one of the best accounts of a fire, as seen from a victims point of view, and as a piece of investigative writing,  I have ever read. Martin Fletcher if ever we meet let me buy you a coffee.

The first half of the book is autobiographical. Martin writes about his life leading up to the incident in 1985, his experiences at the fire, and his life after the fire. He reminisces about the family members he lost on the day, about decisions and actions he took on the day which ultimately led to his survival, and the grieving process he is still going through. Later in the book he mentions, fleetingly, that he suffers from PTSD but at no time in the book does he come across as self- pitying, or that he is looking for anybody’s empathy.  The second half of the book looks at his need to find out all of the facts about the fire. His mother was never happy with the outcome of the investigations surrounding the fire and subsequent Inquiry Chaired by Mr Justice Popplewell. Fletcher was too young at the time of the fire to realise what she was saying. As he grew older he began to understand her concerns. He heard story’s, and remembered remarks his father had made, about other fires in buildings belonging to the same man who owned Valley Parade at the time of the fire. He started to question the evidence given at the Inquiry when he noticed inconsistencies in the statements given by many of the people involved with the football club, the police on duty that day, and the expert fire investigators. He took months of his life to sit in research libraries to search out facts, and improve his understanding.

I have read in some newspapers that he is being berated for his campaign to have a new inquiry. I don’t see that. There is no malicious vendetta, there is no over exaggeration, there are no trumped up facts. It is a simple account laid out for all to see. Fletcher has taken facts and presented them in such a way that it should make it moralistically impossible for this incident not to be looked at again.

The book is written by a well-informed layman allowing anybody with an interest in this particular incident to read and understand the facts.  It is the remarkable story of a survivor of the incident and his troubled journey through his teens and young adulthood. It is the account of a man who is looking for answers, and to some extent finds them, but I don’t think it’s the end of his story just the first instalment.

I spent 30 years in the Fire Service, the final 12 as a specialist Fire Investigator. In 1985 fire investigation in this country was in its infancy. Some would say at that time most fire investigators were not much more than dust kickers. As a discipline and science, like all areas of forensic investigations, it has come on leaps and bounds. However there is a lot in this book that troubles me about the science, or lack of it, used in the testing of the investigators hypothesis as to the source of the ignition.

The book also raises concerns about the speed of the Inquiry, the fact that it commenced a few weeks after the fire and lasted for only a few days; where as other Inquiry’s into similar incidents, which happened pre and post the Bradford Fire, have taken years to come to fruition and months to be heard.  The fact that the Inquiry also embraced the investigation into another incident which happened on the same day, a riot in which a young boy died at Birmingham City Football Club, makes it seem more frivolous.

These days I lecture to students and professionals about fire investigation. I will recommend this book as essential reading and use it to set a project. That project will be entitled “How would you conduct this investigation if this incident happened today”. If the answer reflects the investigation which actually took place the student will fail.

As a little aside to this blog, and to explain why the Bradford Fire has always stuck in my memory let me tell you about what I was doing on the 11th of May 1985.

I was a fireman at Highgate Fire Station in the West Midlands. I can’t remember much about the morning; it would have been taken up by training and attending incidents like any other Saturday day shift.  At about 2.30 in the afternoon both of our appliances were mobilised to St Andrews, the home of Birmingham City Football Club, to a flare ignited in the stand. When we arrived we were met by Police Officers who told us there was a highly charged atmosphere in the ground and that the home fans had been fighting running battles, both inside and outside of the ground with the away team, Leeds United, fans. The officer asked us not to enter the ground as it might be inflammatory to the situation so our gaffer went in on his own to ensure there was no sign of a fire. He returned to the appliances and we drove back to the station.

Highgate Fire Station sits on top of a hill and from the mess room you could see St Andrews. Once the appliances were parked up back in the engine house we made our way up the stairs to the mess for a cup of tea. As we walked through the door the first thing we saw was the live pictures from Valley Parade showing the stand fully alight and people trying to escape. Everybody ran to the window to look at the Blues ground all of us thinking “what the hell did we leave behind”. Fortunately for us the fire was in another football ground.

As we sat transfixed by the images on the television we received another shout, “the bells went down” We were on our way back to St Andrews where a wall had collapsed during a riot that was taking place in and around the ground. This time when we arrived we had work to do, digging people out from under the rubble whilst the police tried to protect us from the missiles being hurled at us by so called football fans. This was the incident in which the young boy died and which made up the second half of the Popplewell Inquiry :-

I personally don’t  think much of that half either!!!