Fred West `confessed to 20 more killings'

Cromwell Street trial: Court hears sensational testimony from witness who admits she lied over pounds 100,000 newspaper deal;
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The Independent Online
WILL BENNETT

Frederick West claimed that he and his wife, Rosemary, killed another 20 young women, in addition to those they were charged with murdering, Winchester Crown Court was told yesterday - by a witness who admitted to agreeing a pounds 100,000 newspaper deal for her story.

The couple had been involved in the killings with several other men and some of the bodies had been buried at a farm, Mr West told Mrs Janet Leach, an observer appointed to sit in on his police interviews.

Mrs Leach was resuming her evidence in the trial of Mrs West on 10 murder charges, six days after collapsing during an adjournment and being taken to hospital in Winchester.

Yesterday, looking pale and drawn, she was pushed into the witness box in a wheelchair. She was accompanied throughout her evidence by Dr Christopher Gordon, from the Royal Hampshire County Hospital, where she had been treated since her collapse.

Mrs Leach, who suffered a stroke last year, admitted yesterday that she had lied last week about contacts with the media and said that she had verbally agreed a pounds 100,000 deal with Mirror Group Newspapers.

The trial of Mrs West, 41, who denies the murders of 10 girls and young women whose remains were found at 25 Cromwell Street, Gloucester, and at the Wests' previous home in the city, entered its seventh week yesterday.

Last week Mrs Leach, 39, told the court she had been appointed as an "appropriate adult" to sit in as an impartial observer at police interviews with Mr West, who was found dead in his prison cell on New Year's Day.

She said she had built up a rapport with Mr West and that he told her that he had made a pact with his wife by which he would take sole responsibility for the killings.

Yesterday, Mrs Leach was asked by Brian Leveson QC, prosecuting, about other murders mentioned by Mr West. She said he told her that the remains of some girls had been buried at a farm.

Mr Leveson asked: "Did you ever get to the bottom of these others?"

Mrs Leach replied: "Only as to what happened to them and how many but he did not give me specific areas."

Mr Leveson asked: "How many people was he talking about?"

Mrs Leach replied: "Another twenty."

Mr Leveson asked if Mr West had revealed who else was involved in the killings. Mrs Leach said he had told her that Mrs West, another person, and some coloured men had taken part.

Mr Leveson said: "Are you in the position to evaluate or judge whether whatever he said to you was true or not?"

Mrs Leach replied: "No."

Questioned by Richard Ferguson QC, defending, Mrs Leach said Mr West had told her that he knew Mary Bastholm, who disappeared in Gloucester in 1968. He said he picked up the 15-year-old at a bus stop.

Mr Ferguson asked: "Did you ask him about where Mary Bastholm was? Did you gather that she was dead?"

Mrs Leach replied: "Yes."

Mr Ferguson said: "Did you ask him where her remains were?"

Mrs Leach replied: "He said that they were on a farm."

She said Mr West told her that the victims found at 25 Cromwell Street had died by accident and that someone else had brought their bodies back there.

He also told her that his first wife, Rena, and another person had killed Anne McFall, whose remains were found near his home village of Much Marcle, Herefordshire. Mr West was charged with her murder, but Mrs West is not.

She admitted that she knew that Mr West was telling her one thing and the police another. Mr Ferguson said: "You did nothing about it." Mrs Leach replied: "I couldn't."

Mr Ferguson asked: "Why was he [Mr West] prepared to take responsibility for these killings?"

Mrs Leach replied: "Because he would do anything for Rose."

Mrs Leach said that after she ceased to be an observer at his interviews, she stayed in touch with Mr West because he had told her about the other bodies and she wanted to find out where they were.

Mr Ferguson asked her about her evidence last week that she had not sold her story or spoken to the media. He said that last year the Daily Mirror had been telephoned by a woman who said she was helping a friend who wanted to write a book. Mrs Leach agreed that she had made the call.

Mr Ferguson then read out a letter, from Mirror Group Newspapers, offering pounds 7,500 for the rights to her story.

Mrs Leach agreed that in August MGN had provided a chalet in Somerset for herself and her family,and in September she had personally received pounds 5,000 from the Mirror.

Mr Ferguson then put it to her that she had had a meeting with three MGN representatives. "At that meeting you verbally agreed to accept an offer of pounds 100,000 for the exclusive rights to your story."

Mrs Leach replied: "I have not signed anything."

Mr Ferguson said: "Did you accept that offer?"

Mrs Leach replied: "Yes."

Mr Ferguson said: "You were also asked if you had spoken to the press by Mr Leveson. That just wasn't true was it?"

Mrs Leach said: "No."

The trial continues today.

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