Frederick West found hanged in cell

Frederick West, the man charged with 12 murders in what has become known as the "House of Horror" case, was found hanged in his jail cell yesterday. He apparently managed to kill himself despite being under close supervision by prison staff.

An inquiry was immediately launched into how he died while being monitored at 30-minute intervals by officers at Winson Green Prison in Birmingham. West, 53, was found hanging from a ligature made of his clothing. He had been designated a "vulnerable" p risoner after psychiatric assessment.

West was found at 12.55pm and although attempts were made to revive him, he was certified dead by a doctor at 1.22pm. West Midlands Police said last night they had begun an investigation.

Chief Superintendant David Baker predicted the inquiry outcome by stating that although all options were being kept open, suicide "may well be the case at the end of the day". Initial findings will have already gone to the coroner. A post-mortem examination was conducted by a Home Office pathologist last night.

Detained since February last year , West was due to face committal proceedings at Dursley in Gloucestershire in February. Rosemary West, 41, who with her husband is the co-accused in nine murder charges, was told of the death by her solicitor.

The arrest of Frederick West triggered one of the largest police operations in Britain. Detectives had been investigating the disappearances of the Wests' daughter, Heather, last seen alive in 1987 when she was 16. Mini-diggers unearthed her remains buried under a concrete patio in the small back garden of West's home at 25 Cromwell Street in Gloucester.

It was the first of a series of gruesome discoveries of other bodies in other locations. The total eventually reached 12.

When told of West's death, Joan Owen, 52, of Port Tennant, Swansea, the mother of Alison Chambers, 17, one of the victims, said: "This is the best news I've heard for a long time. After all the evil things he did, this must be the only good thing he everdid."

At Winson Green, a category B high-security prison, West was under constant supervision. A Prison Service source told the Independent that following psychiatric examination, West had been classified as a "vulnerable" prisoner and was subject to close supervision. His below- average intelligence meant a "responsible person" also had to attend all police interviews.

Between 11.30am and noon yesterday, West was given lunch in his cell. The dinner plate and plastic cutlery would have been collected about thirty minutes later.

At about 1pm West's cell was due for a routine check. His body was discovered at 12.55pm. According to medical estimates, a makeshift ligature, possibly tied around the high window bars of a jail cell, would mean death in anything from three to five minutes for a suicide victim.

The lunch period is regarded by some prison experts as the slackest period of security. Shift changes mean staff exchange watch details and, according to Dr Jim McManus, the Scottish Prison Complaints Commissioner, staff numbers are also lower during holiday periods. Dr McManus added that West seemed a "pretty strong" individual from events such as dismissing his solicitor.

"It's quite possible he's thought about when would be the best time to commit suicide. He knows the routine and if that was what he wanted to do, then that was the rational time to do it," Dr McManus said.

In advance of the police inquiry, opposition politicians were last night blaming the Home Secretary, Michael Howard, for what they called "the latest security lapse".

The shadow Home Secretary, Jack Straw, demanded a thorough inquiry. "Taken with the ever-growing number of security lapses in the Prison Service, this is further confirmation that Michael Howard's grip on the prison service is far too weak," he said.

Because of the horrendous nature of the charges brought against West, "the public and above all the victims' relatives had a right to expect that he would be kept securely until his trial".

Alan Beith, the Liberal Democrats' home affairs spokes-man, said: "This should never have been allowed to happen and it may deprive grieving relatives of the chance of getting the whole truth about the dreadful murders of which he was charged.

"No doubt Michael Howard will say that it's nothing to do with him, which makes a question over why we are paying him to be Home Secretary," he added.

In Much Marcle, the Herefordshire village where West grew up, his brother, Douglas, was last night said to be too upset to speak. His wife, Christine, said he would not be answering any questions.

The dead prisoner's solicitor, Tony Miles, said his death came as a terrible shock and that when he met West last week there was no indication that he was suicidal.

According to a former inmate at Winson Green, West was accompanied everywhere by two prison guards and was never left alone.

Stephen Palmer, 25, who recently finished a six-month sentence for burglary, said West was "detested by all the other inmates. Every thug in the place was dying to get his hands on him."

Mr Palmer, who walked past West's cell every day, said he was largely emotionless and neutral. "The first time I plucked up courage to speak to him, I asked him how he was and he just looked up at me at with an icy grin and said, `Go away'. He smiled like a maniac, and then continued polishing his boots."

Another Prison Service source said that West would have learned two weeks ago from press reports that for certain individuals convicted of murderer, a sentence of life imprisonment would have meant just that.

The total cost of Gloucestershire Police's investigations is thought to be about £700,000. The cost of the West case alone outstripped the force's serious crimes budget for the entire year.

West's life and victims, pages 2 and 3

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Sport
Bradford City's reward for their memorable win over Chelsea is a trip to face either Sunderland or Fulham (Getty)
football
News
Lars Andersen took up archery in his mid thirties
video
Voices
Focus E15 Mothers led a protest to highlight the lack of affordable housing in London
voicesLondon’s housing crisis amounts to an abuse of human rights, says Grace Dent
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operations & Logistics Manager

£38000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's best performing...

Recruitment Genius: GeoDatabase Specialist - Hazard Modelling

£35000 - £43000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our award-winning client is one...

Recruitment Genius: Compressed Air Pipework Installation Engineer

£15000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of Atlas ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Coordinator - Pallet Network

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Opportunity to join established...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project