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Ipswich: A town gripped by fear of serial killer

2011-10-31 23:45:33

It is five years since serial killer Steve Wright began his campaign of murder in Ipswich. Today, in the first of a series marking the anniversary, reporter LIZZIE PARRY looks back at Suffolk’s horror story.

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ipswich: For six weeks in winter 2006, Ipswich was paralysed by fear.

It began with a missing woman, Tania Nicol, last seen alive on October 30.

But by December 12, a police operation unprecedented in Suffolk was under way as detectives investigated the murders of five women.

Miss Nicol, Gemma Adams, Anneli Alderton, Paula Clennell and Annette Nicholls had been taken, killed and left in rural areas.

All five were sex workers, forced out on to the street to earn the money to pay for their crippling drug addictions.

One of the public faces of Ipswich’s response to the killings was former borough council leader Liz Harsant.

“It was a very nervous time,” she said. “When Gemma and then Tania’s bodies were found there was a feeling of disbelief.

“But when the last three girls were found in Nacton woods, a climate of fear existed in Ipswich.

“I and many other women couldn’t help wondering who would be the next victim.”

As the horror story began to unravel, the devastating grip substance misuse had on the victims started to emerge.

Theirs were lives controlled by the drugs they craved. Each was lured on to the streets of Ipswich to sell their bodies for sex to fund the habits that consumed them.

And it was their deadly addiction that led them into the path of killer Steve Wright.

Miss Nicol, just 19-year-old, disappeared in the evening of October 30. CCTV images captured her standing near the corner of Handford Road and Burlington Road at about 11pm.

A Ford Mondeo pulled up and she was never seen again.

On November 1, Tania’s mum Kerry reported her missing. The following day the first public appeal was issued to the media asking for help to find Tania.

Sixteen days later on November 15, her friend Gemma Adams went missing.

The 25-year-old, who was living in Blenheim Road, Ipswich was seen on CCTV walking along West End Road in the early hours of November 15.

She was reported missing at about 2.55am that day.

On December 2, water bailiff Trevor Saunders made the grim discovery of a body in the water at Belstead Brook, near Hintlesham Fisheries, a short distance from Burstall Bridge. It was that of Miss Adams.

Days later on December 8, Tania’s body was discovered in the same stretch of water, two miles downstream at Copdock Mill.

Wright’s third victim, pregnant Anneli Alderton, 24, from Colchester was last seen alive on December 3.

On December 10, a member of the public reported seeing Anneli’s naked body in woodland near Amberfield School in Nacton.

The following day police officers appealed for two more missing Ipswich sex workers, 24-year-old Paula Clennell and Annette Nicholls, 29, to get in contact with them.

But on December 12, their bodies were found just off the Old Felixstowe Road at Levington.

A member of the public reported seeing the naked body of a woman, later to be identified as Miss Clennell, while the police helicopter, scouring the area, spotted Miss Nicholls’s body 150 metres away.

The disappearance of the five women sparked the biggest manhunt ever seen in Suffolk – which would eventually lead police to Wright’s door.

Mrs Harsant, who is still a councillor representing the Holywells ward, said leading Ipswich during that period was the hardest part of her tenure.

She said despite the arrest of Steve Wright, on December 19, she felt a “nagging doubt” as to whether police had the right man.

But months later when a jury of nine men and three women found him guilty of murder, those doubts were put to rest.

She said: “I was in crown court to hear the sentence passed down to him (Wright) by Mr Justice Gross and his words will live with me forever.

“He told Wright, ‘drugs and prostitution meant they (the girls) were at risk, but neither drugs nor prostitution killed them. You did, you killed them, stripped them and left them – why you did may never be known’.

“Many will talk of the good work that has gone on in Ipswich, and I personally applaud it, but don’t let us become complacent and don’t let us forget that they were all somebody’s daughter and didn’t deserve to die like this.

“My thoughts are with their families.”


n What are your memories of the time? How do you think Ipswich has changed? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or you can send an e-mail to [email protected]

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