The serial killings of Fred and Rose West was a case that dominated the early part of my career in newspapers.
I didn’t cover the story on a day-to-day basis but I knew several journalists who did – and working down the road in Swindon, it was close enough to be both macabre and fascinating.
Knowing some journalists who covered the case day in and day out, I do know that many details of Fred & Rose West’s perversions were never made public. Many journalists formed a pact not to reveal some of the more awful details.
I was therefore very interested in the ITV drama Appropriate Adult. I found it quite difficult to watch and difficult to understand the odd relationship between West and Janet Leach. However, having looked a murderer in the eye myself, it can be hard to relate that person to their actions.
Today I’ve listened to the main police officer being critical of the programme and its makers.
Janet’s role in the case was grossly exaggerated, they didn’t stick to the facts.
Such a reaction was predictable – but let’s not forget that this was a drama. It was not a documentary or a drama documentary – nor was it billed as such.
It was also very specific in that it looked at one very particular aspect of this gruesome and awful case. It was a relationship based in fact – Janet Leach is a real person, she did sit with Fred West during police interviews and she did lie about her involvement with a national newspaper.
But should history be harsh on her for that? During the Fred & Rose West trial, many, many people made money out of this case. There were even rumours at the time that T-shirts were even being sold in the street where it happened.
Also many journalists paid money to nearby properties in order to erect scaffoldings etc from which to film activity around the home occupied by the murderers.
Detectives who worked on the case are, understandingly are very passionate about the role they played.
But it remains true that this couple practised their perversions almost in plain sight for many, many years. Was there joined up information around this couple? Who knows? It seems unbelievable that no one at any time raised any concerns about them, about children who were there and then were not…
The drama did two things for me which were powerful – it showed the delusion that the murderer Fred West could have hidden behind.
I’ve experienced it once myself when I visited a convicted killer in prison. Even after ten years inside he still talked about the offence as if the victim was somehow to blame – her behaviour was such that it brought about a fatal chain of events.
The fact that his response to her behaviour was to shoot her dead – he just couldn’t see that that wasn’t a normal response. I felt, sadly, that this man would never be able to see the horror of what he’d done, the pain he’d caused.
The dramatisation of Fred West demonstrated that self-delusion – talking about dead victims with love and compassion while ignoring the elephant in the room – the fact that he or his awful wife had killed that victim.
The other powerful thing for me was the representation of Rose West. As the trial progressed with Rose West in real life, I began to see her as a mastermind rather than a deluded follower of her husband’s perversions.
There’s another thing that rings true from the drama. People like the two Wests don’t just stop such awful acts – paedophiles don’t suddenly stop and start. I believe, as perhaps Janet Leach does, that there are more victims out there. We will never know the full extent of their actions.
My thoughts go out to the relatives of those individuals – a stain on that family that could leak down through the generations.