Inside Story: Rachel Nickell: Fantasy justice

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IN THE Rachel Nickell case at the Old Bailey, the prosecution sought to introduce as evidence the exchanges between the accused, Colin Stagg, and the undercover police officer acting under the name Elizabeth 'Lizzie' James. The defence counsel, William Clegg QC, opposed this, saying that what Stagg had said and written was not spontaneous and did not reflect his true character or state of mind. On Monday last week, before Mr Justice Ognall, Mr Clegg described how, by a process of suggestion and seduction drawn out over several months, James induced Stagg to say things the police wanted him to say, so that his psychological profile would conform with the psychological profile they had prepared of the Nickell murderer. Loneliness and sexual attraction, Mr Clegg explained, drove Stagg to write steadily more 'deviant' sexual fantasies to please Lizzie James, to admit to a homosexual experience and then to confess to a murder that never happened. In the end, however, nothing would induce him to say that he had killed Rachel Nickell. This is an abridged version of that day's proceedings.

WILLIAM CLEGG QC: My Lord, we submit that James encouraged Stagg from the start, from the very first letter. We rely in particular upon the passage where James says she has not had a relationship with a man for a very long time and that she sometimes longs for company, only the kind that a man can give. That could only in context be a reference to a desire for sex.

When she says, 'The letter I read was very revealing in more ways than one,' she goes on to talk about how passion turns bitter. This letter does express an interest in and an enjoyment of the fantasies. The first important step that we say that she takes in seeking to shape his responses is (letter number) EJ/7.

Mr Justice Ognall: That is the 'tip of the iceberg' letter.

Mr Clegg: Yes, and: 'I am sure your fantasies hold no bounds and you are as broad-minded and uninhibited as me.' We say that is the very plainest step towards encouraging him to write more explicit stories.

My Lord, the next important letter, we submit, is EJ/10. We say this is another important step in seeking to reinforce the stories that Stagg is writing to her and a further attempt made by James to shape the contents of his fantasies and this letter does, in our submission, bear a little analysis because one can see how she is hinting at things that appear in the profile (the psychological profile drawn up for the police) but in fact never appear in the reciprocated correspondence. May I expand on that briefly?

Part of the profile, for obvious reasons when one reads the post mortem report, was that the murderer would have a deviant interest in buggery. The one feature one does not find in any letter or any tape or any meeting from Stagg to her is any reference to buggery at all, but one sees in this letter an attempt by her to introduce the concept of buggery into their relationship at this early stage, and by that hopefully obtain a response that would fit the profile. It has to be done subtly in order to achieve the response that they want from Stagg.

At the bottom of the page she says: 'It would be nice to know that you had the same unusual dreams as me. I sometimes scare myself with what I really want. I hope I am not sounding unnatural but sometimes normal things just are not enough and my demands are greater, not just straight sex, there is so much more to explore.'

My Lord, that is in our submission an encouragement and if one looks at it - and these were letters that were scored, read and reread by Stagg - if he had any perception he could pick up from those pages an interest in anal sex to incorporate into the stories for her enjoyment. She is, as it were, signposting that subtly to him.

On the following page she encourages male dominance in their relationship, which is again a feature of the supposed profile. She says: ''I constantly think of the letter you wrote about our first meeting, where you took charge of the situation. You were manly and really showed me who was boss. I need someone like that, someone strong and powerful.'

My Lord, in this letter James is trying to persuade Stagg that she has unusual uninhibited deviant fantasies with more than an allusion to buggery. She tries to encourage Stagg to give her similarly wild, uninhibited, deviant fantasies so that he can be satisfying to her, and thirdly she seeks to encourage Stagg to produce fantasies where he is dominant. This, my Lord, is part of the shaping process that began at this early stage.

MY LORD, following that, it is interesting to note that EJ/12 - that is, a letter back from Stagg to her - does not in fact become any more extreme or explicit than the earlier stories that he has written. Indeed, the theme of the fantasy story is romantic. It involves James going to Stagg's. They cook dinner; there is wine in the fridge and it concludes with consensual sexual activity with no indecency, no sado-masochistic overtures, no anal sex, and no group sex.

The hints she has given do not bring the response she wanted, so she does not reply to the letter. They (the police) hold back, expressing dissatisfaction in the story he writes. One can be quite confident, when you look at the pattern of this correspondence, that had he written back a letter involving sado- masochism, anal sex and group sex there would have been a swift response from her. There is no response from this.

One then moves to EJ/13, which is another letter from him because he is getting no reply. This letter contains no fantasy and Stagg is saying to James that he is desperately lonely; that his only real friend is his old dog Brandy and asks to know what her fantasies are so that he can write stories that she will enjoy. What he is saying in this letter is, 'I am not boring; I can be more exciting. Tell me what you want and I will write it for you.'

Then we get the third important step in the shaping procedure. She now responds because he has said he will write more extreme letters and stories when she tells him what to write. So now she writes back: 'Don't worry, you won't be lonely much longer. Each time you write I know we get closer and closer. I hope we can be soul mates and share everything.'

Here she is trying to persuade Stagg that he is a really special person to her. He had never been a really special person to anyone else. Also she is seeking to persuade him that he, Stagg, is likely to be the only person that she can trust.

SHE moves to the next stage of the seduction by saying to Stagg: 'There are secrets about me that I long to share with someone.' The effect of the letter is intended, we submit, to make Stagg believe that he can also trust her with his secrets. Once their joint secrets are shared they can be together forever.

My Lord, that is a very powerful inducement; the inducement offered is both sex, and more importantly, an intimate and loving relationship - those two things that Stagg wants more than anything else. That letter goes on, dealing with the stories: 'Well, firstly they excite me greatly but I can't help thinking that you are showing great restraint. You are showing control when you feel like bursting. I want you to burst.'

She is not satisfied with the story she has had so far; she wants more extreme ones. Then she picks up on a theme she started off in our second letter, of him being the dominant one, and she takes it one step further again. Here she introduces her being defenceless and humiliated. 'I want to feel you all powerful and overwhelming so that I am completely in your power. I have had my own way too long. I need you to sort me out.'

One sees much later on in a letter that he (Stagg) uses that word: 'It is now time for me to sort you out.' So he actually repeats the words that she places in these letters. A little further, she says: 'I can hardly wait. Please write soon and remember nothing you will ever say or do will offend me. I know you are a good man.'

Again, the reply by Stagg to James does not contain any escalation of the stories. Indeed, it contains a very clear indication that Stagg was uncertain about what James wanted him to put in the stories and that as a result of that letter he now thinks that he knows what she wants him to write. 'Your letter was great. I now have some idea what you want.' This letter contains a fantasy which does not escalate the deviancy above that which had been experienced before. Again, no reply from James, so Stagg writes again and following that we get the fourth step in James's shaping of his letters.

It is in this letter that James reinforces Stagg's efforts to produce the sort of fantasies that she likes. 'You don't offend me in the slightest and it is as if we are really starting to communicate at last, really starting to know each other and each other's needs. You are not offensive, you are honest.'

Then she moves to the next stage in the shaping of this relationship, when she introduces hints of her own past. 'I have never felt fulfilled by them. I know I can be, as in my life I have reached heights of pleasure and fear of the unknown before and it is this I want. I want this with you.'

My Lord, this equates pleasure with fear. Then a little further down the page: 'With each letter you write I am closer to that. I really appreciate the way you reassure me. I have enclosed something for you.' This is the pendant. 'You may not understand the significance of this but to me this is the most valuable thing I own, not in terms of price but in my memories and dreams.'

My Lord, the purpose of the gift was to direct an interest towards satanism - which was yet another feature of the profile. She implied in this letter that she had been involved in some sort of satanism or at some sort of ritual; that she had done something terrible and that their relationship depends on having similar experiences.

She ends by saying: 'Don't worry about the rude things you call me in your letters, I know what it is like to be at the peak of passion and totally carried away, however I haven't felt it for years and years. You will never hurt my feelings by saying those things. Cheer up and I hope you like my gift. Love Lizzie. I can't wait to try your home-made wine.' They are indicating that she would in the future be visiting him at his home. We say that this is an important fourth step.

In the response from Stagg one can see how he reciprocates her development of their relationship. She sends him a pendant and he sends her a ring by return. The moment she sends him a gift she gets one back. She is controlling the relationship.

In EJ/22 Stagg picks up the hints at rituals and satanism and attempts to guess at her guilty secret that is standing in the way of their relationship: 'Am I right in saying that you also practice sexual rituals? Is that what you're trying to tell me?'

It is in that context - she having planted the seed of this in her letter - that he says, 'Inflicting sexual pleasure to each other makes me excited,' and it is after she has expressly alluded to a number of people being involved in these rituals and only after she has quite explicitly said it that he then sends a fantasy involving group sex.

So in other words he has taken the theme of her secret, as expressed in her letters, and incorporates it now for the first time. It is not the two of them in the flat, it is now a group of them having sex, picking the theme up from her and repeating it back in the way she has encouraged; and then we get the group sex story in this letter.

The group sex story was plainly heading the right way because it was becoming more extreme and prompted a response from James. That is EJ/24 and we say the fifth step in her attempt to shape the relationship. Here, having the knowledge that he was extremely short of money she offers to lend him money and thereby place him in her financial debt. It did not work.

SECOND, there is the first mention of hurting people. Earlier reference to pain was in the context of consensual sex between the two of them - or in one case consensual sex in the group - and pain being confined and indeed expressed in the fantasy as screaming in ecstasy. She now introduces, and I quote her words, 'the things that happened when I was with this man weren't what normal people like. These involved upsetting and often hurting people and even though these things are bad and I often feel guilty, I can't forget how exhilarated they made me feel and I'm keen to feel the same way.'

Here she is introducing for the first time pain as a fact, not as part of a story that has been written for whatever reason, and it is coming again from her. It is also in this letter that she offers Stagg the one thing he wants more than anything else, which they know from the interviews: the relationship. She says: 'I am at a turning point. You seem so perfect to me that if you fit my criteria there is no going back for us and we will be together forever.'

This is a very important letter indeed. It indicates Stagg has not been responding in a satisfactory way in his earlier stories and letters and she is placing more pressure on Stagg to write things that please her, saying that their whole lives and the rest of their lives depend on it.

She introduces the idea that she had a relationship with a man which involved hurting people, but it made her feel very special and exhilarated and it makes it clear to Stagg that he has to fulfil certain criteria in order to compete with her previous exhilarating sexual encounter. It is perfectly plain that the hidden message in this letter is that Stagg must reveal some violent past like hers. The purpose of the letter is plain: it is trying to get a confession to the Wimbledon murder. It fails.

My Lord, the reply of Stagg to this letter - the most extreme she had written - is very important. There is no deviant sex in the letter from him at all.

We are now three months into the operation. Nothing has been achieved by way of the first step towards obtaining (the police) profile and the timetable of the operation was two to 16 weeks.

There is a change of tactics following this letter. Stagg says in EJ/25: 'You said in your letter that you and that man used to enjoy upsetting and hurting people. I do not understand. Do you mean physically, mentally, or emotionally? Please explain as I live a quiet life.'

Then he goes on to say: 'If I have disappointed you please don't dump me. Nothing like this has happened to me before. I don't want to lose you. I need you Lizzie. I want to instil those old feelings you so much yearn for, but please, please tell me what it is you want in every detail,' and he underlines 'you'. He could not be clearer that he is asking her to tell him what she wants him to write.

Now I have already alluded to the fact that the operation was not progressing very swiftly and there is a change of tactics by the police. They move from correspondence - it has not achieved anything - to direct contact via the telephone.

In EJ/26, James to Stagg, she expresses her disappointment that he has not telephoned her as was arranged and it certainly looks at this stage as though the whole operation may be breaking down because Stagg is not responding.

So she gives him a further inducement: she offers to go on a summer holiday with him. That is a powerful inducement for a man who has never been on a summer holiday with an attractive girl in the past. And she makes a further allusion to her terrible secret, linking it with the satanic or occult pendant. Stagg replies expressing intrigue about her dark secret, but he just cannot guess what it is. He says, 'I wish you'd come out with it. I'm not going to be shocked,' and then he tells her his dark secret. He says that when he was 17 he had a homosexual encounter on the Common involving mutual masturbation. That must have been thought a fairly tame confession.

They then talk on the telephone, and in a further letter there is a passing reference to the Wimbledon Common murder, Stagg saying, 'I'm not a murderer as my belief is that all life from the smallest insect, plant, animal and man is sacred and unique. To destroy a life wantonly is the greatest sin of all,' and then there is the letter that involves the spanking.

Again it can only be, we submit, that here Stagg is writing the type of stories he thinks she wants and indeed, he expressly reproduces a theme that she had already inserted into the early correspondence.

My Lord, there is nothing of particular importance between that and EJ/30. This is our step six. It is a telephone conversation on 4 May and James is very critical of Stagg. The purpose of criticising him can only be to make him feel that he has not been sufficiently extreme or deviant in his stories and that he would be more interesting if he could write something more extreme.

She says, 'The things in the letters are the things that really interested me about you.' That is a reference to the fantasy letters. 'I like the way you used to write all those things' - she is putting a high premium on the stories in their relationship. Then she goes on to criticise him, 'You just sound a bit flat, that's all. I don't mean it as a criticism, but it's just not what I expected, you know.' 'Here, you're not disappointed, are you?' 'Well, I'm not disappointed but I've, I've been down this road before, you know, and people always seem to say one thing and do another and I mean, I know what I want, I know, yeah, what I can succeed in getting, but it's got to be with the right man.'

The right man, of course, must be somebody who has done the same as her; namely taken part in a brutal, coldblooded murder.

In this conversation James is upping the stakes and encouraging further extreme stories by criticising him so far as being shy and flat. She says to him, 'Can you not even begin to imagine the things I have done, can you not?' and Stagg says, 'Well, I mean, you haven't given me any real clues, you know, so I've been trying to guess in my last letters. Every time I think I've got it right, you know, you give me the impression I've got it wrong.' Then she goes on, 'It's just that these things I mean really have hurt people. It's hurt people,' and he asks her a question he had asked earlier, 'What do you mean, like physically?'

'Yeah, well, things like that, yeah. And things that, oh I hope you don't think I'm being revolting, but to me when I've sat and thought about it, they were really high points for me.'

Then Stagg has another stab at guessing what she is talking about, 'Is it kind of, what are they called, sado-masochism kind of thing?' Lizzie says, 'I think people call it different names for it.'

'Is it of a sexual nature?' he says. 'Yeah, it's of a sexual nature, you're right. I know that I can't even have a relationship with a man at all, not just sexually unless he's felt the same and feels the same because I don't want to share things that I have to pretend all my life and he has to pretend and you know, it's like living a lie. That's why I've never really got involved in other people.'

My Lord, in our submission, they are a long way down the undercover operation by now. She is at this point giving very powerful hints to him that he had better come up with some things a great deal more extreme than a sexual encounter when he is 17 if he is going to pass muster with her.

COULD I take your Lordship to the phone call of 6 May. There, in reference to the spanking fantasy, Stagg says, 'It's about what you said, you know, what you are into and that, you know, yeah. I mean I've never done anything like that, you know, but oh I mean that's what I was worried about, I have never done anything like that and I thought you'd only be interested in somebody who has done those things, you know.' Then she says, 'Yeah, but I have also been with other people who haven't done anything, you know, and I'm just worried I'm going to feel lost and empty.' Stagg says, 'You've got to be happy as well.'

One sees Stagg querying whether the spanking stories are what she wants. My Lord, we say this is the seventh step in shaping his responses. 'Yeah' - this is James speaking - 'I wouldn't worry about that and, you know, what you were saying about that woman? Quite frankly, Colin, it wouldn't matter to me if you had murdered her. I'm not bothered. In fact in certain ways I wish you had because it would make things easier for me because I have got something to tell you and I'll tell you on Thursday that, you know, it just makes me realise that it is fate that brought us together.'

My Lord, this is a deliberate attempt to get a confession to the Wimbledon Common murder, and also it is, when read with the rest of the transcript, an encouragement to go further. It is her saying that the use of a knife is something that she wished he had done.

The importance of this is that this is before he writes the knife fantasy. She is saying to him, 'I wish you had used a knife', and it is only after that that he writes that fantasy letter in EJ/35. She says, 'I like the letter, yeah, but I'm sure you've got a - I mean, a massive imagination. I'm sure this is just touching the tip of the iceberg.'

My Lord, it is during these phone calls prior to the writing of that story that James says to him, 'I have reached such high points, I know that I can't have a proper relationship, proper sexual relation with anybody else unless it - he's done the same, you know.'

She says of her secret that 'it made me feel brilliant, to be honest'. She teases Stagg: 'Can you not even begin to imagine the things I have done?' She says it involved hurting people, and it is with that background, my Lord, that the two of them arrange to meet for a picnic in Hyde Park.

MY LORD, we say that the fantasy story written by Stagg where a knife was mentioned, was shaped and encouraged by Lizzie James. James had said time and time again directly or by implication that she wanted more extreme stories. She was still promising a relationship for life, still promising sex. She had said about the murder that it did not matter if he had done it; in other words, it did not matter to her if it was his hand that had held the knife that killed Rachel Nickell. She had brought up hurting third parties. She had brought up rituals. She had hinted at satanism and she had actually said she wished he had been the murderer. She had given the very broadest hints of what she wanted him to write.

My Lord, we can see the approach that the police adopted at this stage, four months down the road. The message of course is an extremely disturbing one; it is the eighth step in shaping the responses of the defendant Stagg. It is at this meeting that James tells Stagg her dark secret. She has engaged in satanic rituals of group sex, where she enjoyed and participated in human sacrifice.

There are two murders: one of a baby and then the murder of a woman. The choice of how that woman lost her life is no accident: she lost her life with Lizzie James holding a knife and drawing it across the woman's throat, the victim being an attractive young woman. She then drank the blood of the dead woman, and thereafter took place an orgy saying that she had had the best sex ever.

Stagg's response was to say it was an awful event, particularly the death of the baby, and was anxious to ensure that James did not have those feelings now. She confirmed that to be so but she described the experience as mind-blowing, and 'it wasn't like I did it in a letter', in other words saying to Stagg, 'The stories aren't any good; I've done it for real.'

When she says to Stagg, 'I'm not asking you to tell me all your secrets', which is a blatant attempt to prompt a confession to Wimbledon Common, she puts pressure on Stagg, saying, 'Either you are not the right man for me - and we can carry on and be friends - or you might have something you want to tell me one day.'

In other words she is now making it plain that the loving, permanent relationship is completely dependent on him making a confession to her. It is at this meeting that she introduces the coincidence of knives, the cutting of throats and satisfying sex, a theme that he later picks up. She says, 'I'm constantly searching for someone to be like me. I can't have a relationship with a normal man and what I saw in your letters was something different.' I venture to suggest that your Lordship might conclude this was a desperate last gamble to try to get a confession out of Stagg.

My Lord, we say that step nine in the shaping of his responses is to be found in the transcript of the Hyde Park meeting. There is a direct request for a confession: 'You might have something you want to tell me one day.'

An important event is 21 May, a phone call. They talk of having a relationship together and now, because there has been no confession from Stagg, James begins to withhold her affection.

What she says is: 'There can't be anything between us, Colin.' She goes on to say what a vulnerable position she has placed herself in because of her confession. The only reference to the Wimbledon Common murder brought an immediate response by her: 'If only it had been you.' At that point, my Lord, she is saying to him there is going to be no sex, there is going to be nothing because you can't be the person who satisfies me because you haven't done what I have done.

Stagg then writes to her, saying that he is indescribably lonely and that he could have lied to her and asks if they can remain friends and makes arrangements to return her photograph and gift.

Mr Justice Ognall: EJ/38, which you have just referred to, contains the assertion: 'If I didn't feel for you so much I could have lied to you about murder and say I did do it just to be with you.'

Mr Clegg: My Lord, yes.

Mr Justice Ognall: So he is saying that although he has perhaps the most powerful incentive to admit that he was the Wimbledon murderer he did not do it.

Mr Clegg: That is right. It is a letter that is written by a very depressed, very lonely man who is accepting that he is never going to satisfy this woman and making arrangements to return her presents to her. It must have been very near what would have been the end of the operation through his withdrawing from it.

It was not, because four days later there was a further phone call and he comes up with a story that he hopes will win her affection. He says that when he was 12 years old he murdered a girl by strangling her in the New Forest.

My Lord, the fact that he makes up that false confession is a powerful reflection of how the inducements that she has made to him have worked. It was not a killing that involved a knife; it was a joint crime with his cousin. One can see how she shaped this confession because he uses the very word that she used to describe her feelings after her murder, when he says: 'We felt exactly the same feelings that you described to me. Everything was buzzing.'

James, when one reads the transcript, was almost at her wits' end now, trying to get him to admit to the Wimbledon murder and now she has an admission to a murder that never happened.

Everything that he was saying was being shaped and controlled by the undercover officer. She, of course, expressed great reservations about this confession to him, both in that conversation and subsequent ones, and returned to the Rachel Nickell murder, but unfortunately for her Stagg denied all responsibility for that. Then the relationship picks up again because she said that she enjoys his letters a lot and asks him to write to her some more.

He promises to send a further fantasy letter after her request, then there is further general conversation. The theme from her is that she is sceptical about the New Forest killings. 'I just want to know the truth, that's all.'

On 4 June she says how vulnerable she is after confessing her murder and keeps on pressing him for more details about the New Forest killing. She then says that she does not accept the New Forest murder. 'You have made something up just to please me.' Then she directly goes back to the Rachel Nickell killing, but still no confession. She tries to further encourage him to make some adverse comment by saying, at one point: 'I can hear the sound of that knife going into that woman, that is how vivid my memory is,' and she continues to express disbelief at what she calls his 'unbelievable story'.

SHE continuously puts pressure on him, saying that she needs to know the truth. 'If we do have a common bond, wouldn't it be marvellous just to know that when we are together?' Then she becomes very critical of him. 'You are not telling me anything. You are telling me you just made a cock up of a kid and that is not what I am after, is it?'

Stagg: 'Yeah, well you see if I was going to make something up I could have made up something along the lines of what you've done.'

James says: 'All I want out of life is a nice boyfriend just to be with, just to have brilliant sex with, do erotic things with, eat nice meals with and share fantastic fantasies with. I don't want anything else.' Stagg says: 'You are exactly like me.' She goes on to say that she can only have those things with the right person and it can only be the right person if he has a confession to match her confession.

My Lord, it is with that build-up that we get to the tenth step in shaping his responses, which is her fantasy tape to him.

Not only is it, I anticipate, the first time a serving police officer has ever said something like that to a suspect, but she has him holding a knife for the first time in any story. So again, she is advancing the theme.

My Lord, the third turning point relied upon by the Crown was the third meeting and the fantasy story written (by Stagg) in the light of her reintroduction of the knife. It is, in our respectful submission, a natural progression from her lies, suggestions, hints, inducement and encouragement to him.

My Lord, after that we rely - step 11 - on the goodbye meeting. Your Lordship will recall that it is a further concerted effort to get a confession to the Wimbledon Common murder. (This is the final attempt, and like all the previous ones, it is unsuccessful.)

(Photograph omitted)

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