Camden Ripper: Baffling tragedy of how killer was freed to murder again

Camden New Journal 7 April 2011

As the pathologist who wrongly concluded a murder victim died of natural causes is suspended, the New Journal’s RICHARD OSLEY looks back on the case he has followed since the inquest into Sally White’s death in 2002

THERE is a touch of An Inspector Calls about the dark tragedies which unfolded on the College Place estate nearly a decade ago.

In that play, now an A-level standard text for English literature ­students, JB Priestley ­created a cast who each in turn shift uneasily when questioned over the death of a desperate ­factory girl.

A dinner-table circle of consciences are pricked, from the mill owner who made her redundant to the haughty charity ­worker who turns her away when she seeks help, as the opportunities to change her life before suicide are recounted.

What would the playwright have made of the murders of Anthony Hardy?

Of course, the man who became known as the Camden Ripper shoulders the responsib­ility. He pleaded guilty at the Old Bailey in November 2003 to killing three women at his council flat in Camden Town. Two of his victims, who Hardy later said died ­during bondage sex, were photographed in demonic masks after death and then callously mutilated, their torn limbs found tossed in black bin bags over Christmas 2002.

But there are nagging what ifs and lasting concerns over whether those two women, Liz Valad, 29, and Bridgette MacClennan, 34, whose heads and hands were never found, might still be alive today if Hardy had been trapped earlier.

A priceless chance was lost when Sally White, now identified as Hardy’s first known victim, was discovered dead in his back room nearly a year before the deaths of Ms Valad and Ms MacClennan, two women who worked as prostitutes.

Last week, pathologist Dr Freddy Patel was suspended for concluding that Ms White had died from natural causes and not considering other possibilities. A wound to the head and a bite mark to the thigh were recorded, yet heart disease was given as her official cause of death.

It has taken nine years and other high-profile cases, notably the death of newspaper seller Ian Tomlinson at the G20 protests, which Dr Patel worked on, for the General Medical Council to reach this stage in its investigation into Dr Patel’s conclusions. Maybe Priestley’s Inspector Goole might have wanted to have probed beyond the pathologist’s inadequate work.

As Ms Valad’s mother Jackie told her local newspaper in Nottingham, last year: “It ruined my life. I have never recovered. I never got over it. She was such a beautiful girl. It didn’t make sense to us. A lot of mistakes were made.”

She added in that interview with the Nottingham Evening Post that she felt the case had been subject to a whitewash.

It was Mrs Valad who campaigned for a full public inquiry into how Hardy was not caught before her daughter was killed and why he was released from a locked mental health institution just weeks before the murder. There were so many questions to be answered, the Valad family’s case was nevertheless thrown out at the High Court.

At a full public inquiry, Dr Patel would not have been the only one answering questions, such as those he faced during his GMC case. Presumably, the police officers, the coroner of the day, the mental health services and even the council, as his landlord aware of Hardy’s low-level nuisance behaviour on the estate, would have been called to give evidence in an open forum.

That has never happened. As Hardy pleaded guilty, there was no trial and no fresh coroner’s inquests were ever conducted.

The only investigation that did take place unfolded behind closed doors. As such only a small number know what happened in the sessions organised by the North Central London Strategic Health Authority and Camden Council, beyond their published findings.

There is mention of Dr Patel’s work in their final report, published in September 2005. You don’t need too many powers of deduction to work out he is the man identified only as “Dr Y”.

The document, however, suggests there were areas of concern beyond the work of the pathologist. For example, the coroner’s inquest into Ms White’s death, a short hearing in front of a handful of people, was considered inadequate.

Having been on the New Journal for four months, I was sitting in court that day as a cub reporter still getting used to the inquest system that most people have no knowledge of unless a relative or friend dies in unusual circumstances. Looking back, it is amazing to think it was all over in 15 minutes. The coroner was Dr Stephen Chan, who has not given evidence to any panel, investigation or inquiry in relation to the Hardy murders.

After he left St Pancras Coroner’s Court, the New Journal was told by officials at the court he had left no forwarding address for our enquiries.

Dr Chan oversaw hundreds of inquests at St Pancras, often lamenting the scourge of drug use in Camden and Islington. That day he listened to a statement from Ms White’s father, who has never commented on the case beyond those words, read to the inquest by a court official. Dr Chan also listened to a report from a housing worker and then Dr Patel gave evidence from the witness box.

Hardy, despite being at the scene when the body was discovered in his flat, was not asked to give evidence.

In his concluding remarks, Dr Chan said: “She [Sally White] died as a result of coronary artery disease. I will accept this as the medical cause of her death, so there really is no other conclusion than to conclude this inquiry by recording a verdict that she died as a result of natural causes.”

But Dr Chan, according to the health authority’s investigation, had not been given the full picture; not only by Dr Patel’s attempt to establish how Ms White had died, but by the police as well. It transpired police, albeit unintentionally, did not provide the full details to Dr Chan.

Instead of a full statement detailing the curious circumstances in which Ms White’s body was found, police handed over what amounted to basic details for the sole intention of getting Ms White’s body released.

A detective sergeant attached to the serious crime group wrote simply: “Police have conducted an investigation and, although it is obvious that Mr Hardy is in need of psychiatric help, there is no evidence to suggest he was responsible for the death of Sally White. The investigation has concluded and the matter has been subsequently classified as a No Crime.”

The health authority’s inquiry later reported: “We are not in a position to comment usefully on Dr Y’s post-mortem findings but we do have concerns about the statement provided by the police. It is what the statement omitted to say that causes us concern. There was no mention of the presence of the bucket of warm water in the room where Sally White’s body was found, which proved Mr Hardy was lying when he denied any knowledge of her presence in his flat.

“The statement did not say that Mr Hardy lied when asked if he had a key to the locked room where her body was discovered, or how he reacted when the key was found in the lining of a jacket by a police officer. It did not mention the clothing that had apparently been cut from Sally White’s body when she was dead. The police had all this information but they did not convey it to the coroner. The cor­oner had no other way of knowing these things. Had these matters been communicated to the coroner we think it likely that he would not so easily have been satisfied that there was no third-party investigation or foul play.”

Ms White died in January 2002, nearly a year before Ms Valad and Ms MacClennan were discovered dead and dismembered. Sally White’s body was discovered after police visited Hardy in relation to a claim that he poured battery acid through a neighbour’s door. Charged over that off­ence, he was “sectioned” rather than jailed.

The panel said it did not want to speculate on what might have happened if Dr Chan had been briefed differently but its report added: “The effect of the police statement was to close off any further inquiry by the coroner… It conveyed a misleading and unduly reassuring impression about the circumstances.”

The Metropolitan Police did answer this criticism, insisting the detectives involved were never asked to attend the inquest, although it conceded: “Regrettably, for an unascertainable reason, the letter sent to the coroner for the purposes of releasing Sally White’s body was tendered in evidence and the wider concerns of the investigative team were not fully brought before the coroner.”

It is clear detectives were concerned about what they had seen but these worries were not relayed to Dr Chan.

In a Channel 4 documentary, The Hunt for the Camden Ripper, made after Hardy’s conviction, Detective Inspector Alan Bostock is asked why the Sally White investigation was brought to a close.

“The cause of death was given as coronary heart disease, which we refer to as natural causes. Not suspicious. So to that extent there isn’t a case for us to investigate. I get paid to investigate unex­plained deaths, suspicious deaths not deaths by natural causes. All those decisions are important decisions that are not made by me,” he says.

Later in the same documentary, images of the crime scene, including a blurred photo of Ms White’s body are included. It’s stomach-turning material. All of it would have been packaged up in a “natural causes” file.

Without the public inquiry Mrs Valad called for, there is no way of knowing what was running through the police officers’ minds. Would a budding Columbo have learned that the pathologist and the coroner believed Ms White’s death was due to heart problems and left it at that? Who knows?

Ultimately, the health authorities were cleared of any wrongdoing.

Hardy, despite a history of mental illness, a personality disorder and schizophrenia, was said to have been ‘bad, not mad’ at the time of his killings.

The investigation said that the mental health experts who assessed him and discharged him from St Luke’s, a mental health hospital in Muswell Hill, just six weeks before his last two killings, could not have predicted what was to happen. The decision not to pursue home visits was also vindicated by the findings.

But again the inquiry’s report reveals concerns which ran into dead ends, with mental health workers revealing how they feared Hardy had killed Ms White even after Dr Patel had concluded otherwise.

Tiptoeing nervously around the subject, it was discussed by staff informally. Hardy said an alcohol-induced blackout meant he could not recall how Ms White’s body ended up in his room. It was all too suspicious for some.

One community psychiatric nurse told the inquiry: “With me it was just a gut feeling. It’s the same gut feeling I had because I spoke to another member of the team when we were talking in the office about it and I always had my concerns that he had done it. The whole team had a gut feeling he had done it.”

While they held these fears, there was no official outlet or investigation for them to share them with. During an interview another health worker said: “I remember a number of reactions. One was, ‘that’s daft, how does the body of a woman get into somebody’s flat?’ Then there was a relief and it was a mixture of ‘that’s all right then, he hasn’t murdered somebody but hang on a minute, it’s not quite all right’.”

The interviewer asked: “In your own mind, putting it at its lowest, it remained a possibility that it was murder and that he had got away with it?”

The answer: “Yes.”

And they were right. Hardy had got away with murder and was free to kill again, but the worries and doubts led nobody to formally look again at Ms White’s death.

In 2002, Dr Patel said Ms White had died from heart disease. It must have been a puzzling conclusion to at least 10, 20, maybe 30 or more people who had either been at the crime scene or dealt with Hardy afterwards, people with close knowledge of the case. None of them felt able to get the case reopened.

When an application for a public inquiry reached the Royal Courts of Justice in 2005, brought in the name of Liz Valad’s daughter, Soraya, Mr Justice Bennett ruled that the government had met its obligations by holding the health authority’s independent review into the mental healthcare received by Hardy.

Now, Dr Patel’s case has been resolved at the GMC, the Camden Ripper files may never be reopened again.

Ripper case pathologist Dr Freddy Patel suspended

THE pathologist who ruled one of the victims of “Camden Ripper” Anthony Hardy had died of natural causes has been suspended for four months.

The General Medical Council upheld allegations relating to  the case of Sally White, a woman suffering from drug addiction and working as prostitute who was killed by Hardy at his Camden Town council flat in January 2002.

Hardy, who is serving a “life-means-life” jail sentence, admitted killing her in November 2003. Dr Patel had told an earlier inquest that she had died from heart problems.

The panel ruled that Dr Patel, 63, had taken an “inflexible approach” to his autopsy and gave only “superficial” consideration to the possibility Ms White  had been strangled.

It found his work was “not of the standard expected of a competent forensic pathologist and liable to bring the medical profession into disrepute.”

Police shut down a potential murder inquiry against Hardy after Dr Patel’s findings. The killer returned to his flat and later in 2002 killed prostitutes Liz Valad and Bridgette MacClennan, chopping up their bodies and throwing them out in black bags.

He went on the run for three days before being arrested at Great Ormond Street Hospital where he went  for medication for diabetes.

 

 

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