Steve Wright murders 15 years on: How the case unfolded
- Credit: Archant
Suffolk Strangler Steve Wright was arrested by police in December 2006 for the murders of five women. Crime reporter Michael Steward takes a look back at the events of 15 years ago.
As Christmas shoppers filled Ipswich's streets in late November 2006, many would have had little idea the Suffolk town was about to be thrust into the world spotlight.
Two women — Tania Nicol and Gemma Adams — had been reported missing from the town's red-light district in the space of 14 days but few could have predicted how events would unfold over the next month.
The bodies of Miss Nicol and Miss Adams would be found along with those of three other women — and the hunt for a serial killer would chill the town to its core.
Miss Adams, 25, was the first to be found in a brook at Thorpe's Hill in Hintlesham on December 2.
While the body of Miss Nicol, 19, who had disappeared two weeks prior to Miss Adams, was found six days later in a brook at Copdock Mill.
The grisly discoveries raised concerns, both in the media and among people in the town, that a serial killer was targeting Ipswich's sex workers.
Those fears would be confirmed when the body of Anneli Alderton, 24, was found in woodland in Nacton on December 10 a week after she went missing.
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Recalling the startling press conference that would reveal two more women had been found, former Suffolk police officer Ali Livingstone, who worked as a beat cop at the time, said in his 2020 book Broken Blue Line: "We were all confident there must be a significant update coming; we knew in our hearts that another body had been found.
"The senior investigating officer, Stewart Gull, began the press conference and confirmed that a body had indeed been found. What he then went on to say stunned the room. While examining the scene of the first discovery, they had found a second body close by. You could have heard a pin drop.
"Experienced, seasoned officers who had been there and done it all before were transfixed by the screen, hanging on every word that was being said."
For Suffolk police, it was unprecedented. Five separate incident rooms were set up at the force's Martlesham headquarters and around 3,000 people a day were calling with information.
Officers and vehicles from nearly 40 other forces were drafted in to cope with the volume.
Then Detective Chief Superintendent Stewart Gull told the media that the investigation "was not a TV drama" and the case would take time to solve.
Officers knocked on around 1,500 doors, trawled through 11,000 hours of CCTV footage and searched 176 sites in and around Ipswich as the manhunt progressed.
Other Ipswich sex workers were interviewed about their clients and warned to stay off the streets.
Evidence began to mount up from the crime scenes and on December 19, 2006, former pub landlord Steve Wright was arrested on suspicion of murdering all five women.
"Significant" amounts of Wright's DNA were found on three of the victims and fibres from his car, home and clothing were found on all five.
Wright's DNA had been added to the national crime database in 2002 after he was convicted of stealing £80 from a pub till.
The forklift truck driver, then 48, was officially charged with five counts of murder on December 21 and worldwide attention then turned to the courtroom.
Wright's trial at Ipswich Crown Court began on January 16, 2008, and the prosecution case was led by Peter Wright QC, with Suffolk barrister Simon Spence as prosecution junior.
Mr Spence, now a QC, said: "Obviously it was a huge case and it was effectively five separate murder investigations combined and indeed that's how the police investigated it initially instead of assuming it was the work of one individual.
"You do inevitably [feel the pressure] because every decision you make, every submission you make in court is subject to scrutiny.
"But the other aspect to it, to be honest, was dealing with the families. Because with an ordinary murder case, if there is such a thing, you're perhaps dealing with the immediate family of one individual.
"In this case we had the conference room near the court offices in the court building exclusively for the use of the families and they were watching proceedings on a live link on a TV screen. So on any given day there would have been 20, 30 or 40 people in there and one of my tasks was to go in and see them all and give them a daily update as to what was happening and why and answer any questions.
"That was a unique feature of what I had to do in this case because it's unheard of to deal with that many bereaved members of families - and of course not all of them were fully aware what their daughters had been up to. So they were not only coming to terms with their family member being killed but also the reasons that lay behind it."
Under cross-examination in the witness box, Wright, who came to be named the Suffolk Strangler, gave the same answer 53 times when quizzed about the murders.
He claimed the evidence against him was coincidence and answered any question with either: "It would seem so yes", "It would appear so yes" or "If you say so, yes".
"He was completely detached and unemotional, and had that sort of dead look behind his eyes, I think he knew what the inevitable outcome of the case was going to be," Mr Spence recalled.
"But he showed no feeling or emotion towards the girls at all. Bearing in mind his defence was that he had a professional relationship with each of them, and knew them individually, albeit paying for their services. You just thought, if there was any heart there at all, he would have shown some sadness, grief, whatever it was, for people that he actually knew."
Jurors in the case took just eight hours to convict him unanimously on all counts following the six-week trial. Mr Spence said it took those involved in the case by surprise.
He said: "We were all absolutely flabbergasted because we thought they were going well into the following week. I think it actually took the press and media by surprise as well because quite a few of them had started packing up thinking, 'nothing's going to happen this week so we'll come back on Monday'.
"We felt confident, but of course you never know and inevitably, even with ordinary cases, your heart's in your mouth when a jury come back, that's a feeling that never goes away. But I suppose it was multiplied by whatever number you care to think of for that particular case.
"The judge sentenced the following day and it was a very emotional experience because after the verdicts came in, the first thing Peter and I did was to go through to the family room where they had all been watching. They were of course in tears and it was very difficult holding your emotions back.
"It was a bit of an emotional roller coaster for us, and of course for the police as well because they had devoted a huge amount of time to the investigation."
There has long been speculation that Wright, now 63 and serving a whole-life tariff at Long Lartin prison in Worcestershire, could have killed before.
In July this year, it was reported that Wright had been arrested on suspicion of murdering Trimley teenager Vicky Hall in 1999.
Suffolk police would not comment on the identity of the suspect but said the man has been released under investigation - pending further enquiries.