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

David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvSeries 5 opening episode attracts lowest ratings since drama began
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
Greg Dyke insists he will not resign as Football Association chairman after receiving a watch worth more than £16,000 but has called for an end to the culture of gifts being given to football officials
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Administrative Assistant

£60 - £75 per day: Randstad Education Luton: Administrative Assitant Hertford...

Web Application Support Manager

£60000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Reigate...

** Secondary History Teacher Required In Liverpool **

£120 - £165 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Secon...

** Secondary Geography Teacher Required In Liverpool **

£120 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Secon...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments