Ipswich murders 10 years on: London Road - a community reborn out of tragedy

Police at Steve Wright's home in London Road

Police at Steve Wright's home in London Road - Credit: PA

During the Ipswich murders in 2006 the already put-upon residents of London Road found themselves in the eye of a media storm.

Julie Hyland and Ron Alder walking down London Road, Ipswich.

Julie Hyland and Ron Alder walking down London Road, Ipswich. - Credit: Gregg Brown

By late 2006 Ron Alder and Julie Hyland had been driven to distraction by sex workers plying their trade outside their homes.

Time and time again frustration at the situation got the better of them, but still nothing appeared to be being done to solve the problem.

It took the murders of five women by fellow resident Steve Wright, who lived a short distance away, to prove the turning point.

Out of the most appalling of tragedies, somehow a community spirit was reborn.

Steve Wright

Steve Wright - Credit: PA

For the last 10 years there have been no women on the streets offering sex, and life has become more tranquil.

Mr Alder, chairman of the neighbourhood watch scheme, has lived in London Road for around 13 years.

The 82-year-old said: “It was horrible. It was difficult to walk out in the street after teatime without seeing somebody soliciting for sex, and as the evening progressed it got worse and worse.

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“Sometimes their minders were there. I have been solicited I don’t know how many times and my wife was propositioned by kerb crawlers.

David Skevington at the time he was overseeing the investigation into the murder of Gemma Adams.

David Skevington at the time he was overseeing the investigation into the murder of Gemma Adams.

“We had condoms and syringes chucked in front gardens. It could be an intimidating place to live.

“When it all stopped we suddenly couldn’t cope with the quiet and the lack of traffic up and down the road. It was astonishing.

“Immediately after it all happened we became a quiet residential road. That Christmas we were the safest street in the world.

“Because of the various meetings all of a sudden we found we were talking with people in the street and we got quite a good community feeling between us.

“We had just formed as a group some two or three weeks before the murders started. Then suddenly we were confronted with this.

“We coped, but it was pretty awful.

“Nowadays it is very, very quiet.”

Mr Alder is still at a loss to understand why not only the police, but also other agencies, were seemingly unable to solve the problem of a red light area before Wright murdered five women.

Julie Hyland, events co-ordinator of the neighbourhood watch scheme, has lived in London Road for more than 25 years.

The 49-year-old said: “I had teenage daughters at the time of the murders. It was very unsafe for the girls.

“I wouldn’t allow them to walk down the road on their own. The lighting was very, very poor. It allowed the (working) girls to work. There was a feeling of being unsafe and just not being a very nice place to live.”

Paula Clennell lived in London Road near Steve Wright’s flat when he went on his killing spree.

Miss Clennell would often be seen opposite Mrs Hyland’s home.

Mrs Hyland said from her home she could see kerb crawlers slow down to pick up women.

“Quite a lot of the time I would sit there writing down registration numbers, and then ringing police.

“I got more angry because I was making phone calls and thinking ‘where are the police? Why aren’t they doing anything about it?’.

On at least one occasion Mrs Hyland was so annoyed she confronted a punter in his car with one of the sex workers.

“I went down Handford Cut and banged on the side of the door. I got really angry and made (the girl) get out of the car.

“You get to the stage when you contact police, they don’t do anything about the problem, and it makes you feel you have got to do something about it.

“It got on our nerves. Our road is a residential street. It is not a rough area, but they made our lives hell.

“I still feel if wasn’t for what Steve Wright had done the police would not have done anything about the girls and the girls would still be working on the streets.”

Chief Superintendent David Skevington, of Suffolk Constabulary, said at the time the policing priorities were aimed at volume crimes such as burglaries and other such offences.

Like all other towns and cities prostitution was lower down the list.

Mr Skevington sympathises with how the residents felt.

He said: “It is a really valid issue. We have changed our approach to make sure some of our officers have become skilled and dedicated to issues of vulnerability.”

Mr Skevingsto is the only officer still currently serving with Suffolk Constabulary who was in charge of one the five murder inquiries which were under the umbrella of Operation Sumac.

At the time he was a Detective Chief Inspector and was the senior investigating officer for the Gemma Adams investigation.

Following his training allied to tried and trusted methods ultimately enabled police to catch Steve Wright.

However, at one point he admits it was difficult to keep pace with what was happening as the five women’s bodies were found within 10 days.

Mr Skevington said: “It was so fast moving and you are completely submerged in it. Probably the scale of it didn’t hit me until we were well into our enquiries.

“I can remember I had been made a Detective Chief Inspector about two or three weeks before Tania (Nicol) went missing.

“This would be the first high-category murder investigation I had taken on as a newly promoted Chief Inspector.”

Gemma Adams was the second woman to go missing. She was reported missing on November 15.

The 25-year-old’s was the first body to be found, in Belstead Brook, Hintlesham, on December 2.

Mr Skevington said: “We still thought there was a chance we would find her because of the lifestyle and issues she had got in her life.

“It may have been she wanted to get out of Ipswich for a while. There was always the potential that had happened. Because that was the route Tania may have gone down, possibly Gemma thought that as well.

“It was really sad and tragic when we found her. It brought home the thought ‘how can a human being do this to another human being’?”

When all five women’s bodies had been found police were submerged with information and lines of enquiry.

Despite national media pressure officers, led by then Detective Chief Superintendent Stewart Gull, remained methodical and detailed in their approach supported by nearly all the other police forces in the UK.

Mr Skevington said: “It was a huge amount of pressure. The scale of what was happening in Ipswich didn’t pass me by, but you just have to keep an open mind.

“I remember going through all sorts of emotions and being highly-motivated to find out who was responsible, balanced with a time thinking ‘are we ever going to resolve this?’.

“The murders of sex workers are historically very difficult to solve simply because of their vulnerability and they will spend time with complete strangers, and also that is potentially a community that wouldn’t open up to police in those particular times.

“You just try to keep your emotions out of it by thinking you have a huge responsibility to do a job.”

After Wright’s arrest officers believed they had caught their man.

Mr Skevington said: “There was a huge sense of relief, but also a sense of we still had a huge amount of work to do.”

He added solving the murders for the women’s families was a priority.

“It was the focus. It was not only the focus for me but the focus for the force.”