The eyes of evil made it tough to be a parent: STEPHEN WRIGHT

Staring into the eyes of evil made it tough to be a parent: No case has affected Mail crime writer STEPHEN WRIGHT as deeply as the trial of Rose West. Twenty five years on, he relives the horror that haunts him still

  • Rose West was a sex-obsessed psychopath who murdered ten young women
  • Stephen Wright says she was every bit as evil as the Yorkshire Ripper, or worse 
  • Crime reporter reveals case gave him irrational fear while raising his daughters 
  • He says speaking to parents of one slaughtered teen remains clean in his mind 

Standing in the dock of courtroom No.3 at Winchester Crown Court 25 years ago last Sunday, the matronly woman in her black suit and white blouse cut a very ordinary figure.

If she still wore a gold crucifix around her neck, the one she’d worn throughout her trial, it was hard to make out.

But her cynical bid to be seen as a godly woman had failed. The real Rose West had been unveiled over seven weeks of some of the most harrowing evidence heard in a British court — and which for me after a quarter of a century of crime reporting for the Daily Mail has never been matched for depravity.

She was a sex-obsessed psychopath without parallel among female killers in the UK. A true monster.

Stephen Wright reveals the case of House of Horrors murderess Rose West (pictured) forever haunts him and sparked an irrational fear while raising his two daughters

The mother of eight had just been convicted of murdering ten young women and girls, including her daughter Heather and stepdaughter Charmaine, and was about to learn her fate. She knew what was coming — a ‘life means life’ jail term but was determined not to break down in public. It was a final act of defiance against those she and her late husband Fred — who escaped justice by hanging himself in his prison cell before trial — had abused, tortured and butchered.

If she was suppressing any emotion, it was pity for herself, not remorse for her crimes.

This case redefined my understanding of the word evil, taking me into a world of unimaginable horror. Journalists covering the trial were offered counselling, and if I had been a parent then, I might have requested some. At the time, some people complained that the evidence was too shocking to read — but there was so much that never made it into print: it was simply too awful.

The Yorkshire Ripper, who died earlier this month, may have had more female victims than Rose West but, having sat through every day of her trial, I can say she was every bit as evil as Peter Sutcliffe. Possibly worse.

Rose West’s case had a lasting impact on how I brought up my two daughters. As they entered their teens, and wanted more freedom, I found myself having to put to one side the irrational fear that they could cross paths with people like the Wests.

When you have spent so long covering the dark side of life, you must guard against being overprotective of your children and somehow allow them to get the night bus or a late taxi home from town.

Statistically it is very unlikely anything bad will happen, but you have to manage those fears more when you have a job like mine.

I am forever haunted by one victim of the Wests, whose parents I interviewed back in 1995.

Victim Lynda Gough (pictured), who had been privately educated penned a note promising to visit her parents before going missing 

Lynda Gough was going through a minor teenage rebellion, seeking more independence from her loving parents, when she suddenly left the family home in April, 1973.

The privately-educated 19-year-old’s note to her mum and dad read: ‘Please don’t worry about me. I have got a flat and I will come and see you sometime, love Lyn.’

It wasn’t long before her dad John, who became a senior officer with Gloucestershire Fire & Rescue Service and mum June, a clerical worker, became extremely worried.

Detective work by Mrs Gough, then 39 and a mother of three, led her to 25 Cromwell Street in nearby Gloucester about ten days later.

Friends of their daughter had given the worried mother her address. On knocking on the door of the bleak three-storey property, a couple answered and June Gough recognised the dark-haired woman as someone who had called at her home for Lynda a month earlier.

At first the woman was reluctant to admit that Lynda had been there, but went on to have a ‘perfectly reasonable conversation’ with the worried mother. The woman said ‘children had no respect for their parents, lacked gratitude and didn’t understand their feelings’, then admitted that Lynda had stayed there briefly before moving on.

But then June Gough noticed the woman was wearing Lynda’s slippers and a cardigan, and spotted more of her daughter’s clothes on a washing line in the back garden.

Crime reporter Stephen, said the memory of  meeting with Lynda’s parents at their home in Highnam remains clear in his mind. Pictured: Rose and late husband Fred

When challenged, the woman said Lynda had been talking about going to Weston-super-Mare in Somerset and had left her clothes at the house, but ‘they weren’t sure’ where she had gone.

The conversation came to a cordial end after about 15 minutes

Despite Mrs Gough contacting the police, the benefits agency and The Salvation Army in her efforts to find Lynda, she heard nothing more for more than 20 years.

Then, in early 1994 police began to unearth the remains of young females at 25 Cromwell Street. Fred and Rose West and their ‘House of Horrors’ dominated world headlines.

June Gough realised that the women who had coolly fobbed her off on the doorstep all those years ago was Rose.

As the body count mounted, the Goughs were filled with dread that Lynda might be among the victims. Then on March 7 her remains were found. She had never left Cromwell Street but had been murdered and dumped in an inspection pit of a garage at the property.

Months later, the Goughs invited me to their home in Highnam. The police had not yet told them how Lynda had died, the extent of her injuries or about the paraphernalia found near her remains.

Rose’s victims included her own children, live-in nannies and teenagers in care as well as young women who had been lured into the couple’s car. Pictured: Rose and Fred

The memory of that meeting with the parents of a teenager tortured, then slaughtered, by the Wests for their sexual pleasure remains very clear in my mind.

I was close to tears as June told how Lynda had left home suddenly, and how their respect for her independence had given way to fear that something awful had happened — eventually assuming their daughter no longer wanted contact.

‘We were sure Lynda would be back,’ Mrs Gough told me. ‘When she didn’t return we thought she didn’t want to bother.

‘I often wondered what she looked like. There was a couple next door in their early 30s and I thought, ‘Does Lynda look like that now?’’’

Before then, June Gough and I were strangers. By the end of it, I wanted to hug her. As a crime reporter, it’s important to feel emotionally involved while remaining objective. That balance was severely challenged in the West case.

In the autumn of 1995, the trial of Rose West began at Winchester and the true extent of her and husband Fred’s depravity was laid bare.

There were broadly three categories of victim: the couple’s own children and live-in nannies, teenagers in care enticed to Cromwell Street with the promise of a bed and companionship, and young women lured into the couple’s car — wrongly feeling secure because of Rose’s presence in the front passenger seat.

Most victims are believed to have been knocked unconscious and bound with cords before being tortured. Pictured: Fred 

Some victims were kept alive for just hours, others for days, during which, bound and gagged, they endured repeated sexual assaults. Then they were brutally murdered, their bodies hacked to pieces and buried under the kitchen and cellar floors or in the garden.

From the state of the remains and the items found with them, plus the testimony of a woman who survived an abduction and rape by the couple, the prosecution QC reconstructed the Wests’ methods.

It was a sickening litany. Most victims are believed to have been knocked unconscious, bound with cords and gagged with masking tape before being tortured.

Police had found hooks drilled into rafters in the cellar, their use not hard to imagine. But most dreadful of all, at least one victim had had plastic tubes stuffed into her nostrils through masking tape wrapped around her face.

Rose West denied everything she was accused of.

Months earlier, two veteran journalists who’d covered the 1966 trial of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley told me the West case couldn’t be as bad as that of the Moors Murderers. As the full extent of the victims’ suffering was revealed at Winchester, I suspect they revised their opinion.

Rose had a vicious temper and pushed the boundaries of violence in her quest for sexual thrills. Pictured: Rose and Fred’s home 25 Cromwell Street 

There was no audio recording of torture there had been in the Brady/Hindley case but none of us were left in any doubt about what the victims went through.

At her trial, Rose West, then 41, would occasionally wipe away tears. Was she sorry for the victims or, more likely, sorry for herself that Fred’s apparent plan to kill himself to save her from trial had failed?

Opening the prosecution, Brian Leveson QC said at the ‘core of this case is the relationship between Frederick and Rosemary West, what they each knew about each other, what they did together, what they did to others and how far each was prepared to go.’

Over the weeks I became utterly convinced Rose was the driving force not Fred, who had been 12 years her senior.

Dim but devious, Fred was a pervert, a voyeur and psychopath plus — despite being a cowboy builder — an able hand when it came to disposing of the bodies.

Rose, from all the evidence, took a special pleasure in torture. She had a vicious temper and pushed the boundaries of violence in her quest for sexual thrills.

Indeed, ‘pure evil’ doesn’t begin to describe her actions between 1971 and 1987.

She tried her best to earn the sympathy of the jury — as well as a crucifix, she even wore a Poppy to commemorate Armistice Day — yet within minutes of entering the witness box, I knew she would be convicted.

Stephen revealed he became utterly convinced Rose was the driving force not Fred (pictured) 

Defence QC, Richard Ferguson described her as ‘another victim’ of Cromwell Street, a woman who’d been raped by her own father then bullied, abused and controlled by her husband. She had also lost her family as a result of false murder allegations.

Her theatrics, though, were obvious. ‘He promised me the world, he promised me everything,’ she claimed in three hours of dramatic testimony. ‘Because I was so young, I fell for his lies.’

But the jury saw her for what she was — a woman instrumental in the gruesome murders of her eldest daughter Heather, 16, her step-daughter Charmaine, eight, Carol Ann Cooper, 15, Lucy Partington, 21, Therese Siegenthaler, 21, Shirley Hubbard, 15, Juanita Mott, 18, Shirley Ann Robinson, 18, and Alison Chambers, 17, as well as Lynda Gough, 19.

Trial judge, Mr Justice Mantell told the emotionless defendant: ‘If attention is paid to what I think, you will never be released. Take her down.’

Former Detective Superintendent John Bennett who led the police case, told my Mail+ True Crime podcasts he believes Rose will never admit her guilt and will take her secrets to the grave.

‘Personally I doubt very much that she will ever say anything more than she’s already said, which is absolutely nothing at all,’ he said. ‘I think she is now… institutionalised. She’s quite comfortable with being who she is, and where she is, and her personal circumstances. There is no gain for her whatsoever to make further admissions or to assist anybody.’

Rose was at top-security Low Newton jail in County Durham with a TV, radio, CD player and her own bathroom in her 2014 cell. Pictured: victim, Lucy Partington, 21

Rose West enjoys listening to The Archers on Radio 4, playing Monopoly, embroidery, cooking and shopping from catalogues, including beauty products from Avon and trinkets from Argos.

We know that in 2014, West’s cell at top-security Low Newton jail in County Durham had a TV, radio, CD player and she had her own bathroom. A prison romance with the now late Myra Hindley in the 1990s, was followed by several relationships with other inmates.

Even in 1995, June Gough had mixed feelings about the sentence given to her daughter’s killer. Yes, the House of Horrors murderess had been jailed for life, but would that be much of a punishment?

Lynda Gough was just an ordinary teenager finding her way in the world in 1973. Had she not crossed paths with the Wests, she would now be 67 years old. Rose West turns 67 later this month.

‘She didn’t have the chance to get married, have children and lead a settled life. It was all taken away from her,’ her mother told me.

The tragedy is compounded by Rose’s enjoyment of prison life. Rarely in all my years of crime reporting have I ever seen a clearer case of the punishment not fitting the crime.

Now listen to Stephen Wright’s podcast on the case at

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