Grim remains reveal 'torture masks'

The Rosemary West trial: Pathologist tells court how alleged victims were bound, gagged, and dismembered
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The Independent Online

The masks allegedly used to silence women who were kept alive while being sexually abused by Rosemary and Frederick West were described to the jury at Winchester Crown Court yesterday.

Seven of the nine victims whose remains were found at the couple's home at 25 Cromwell Street, Gloucester, had been masked or gagged. Most had been decapitated and dismembered and many had bones missing.

Details of the grim discoveries during the police excavation at Cromwell Street last year were given to the court by Professor Bernard Knight, a Home Office forensic pathologist who was called to examine the remains found at the house.

Mrs West, 41, denies murdering ten girls and young women whose remains were found at 25 Cromwell Street and at the West's previous home in Gloucester. Mr West, who was charged with 12 murders was found dead in his prison cell on the 1st January this year.

The court heard that the bones of Shirley Hubbard, 15, were found in the cellar at Cromwell Street with her skull encased in a mask of brown parcel-type adhesive tape wound around her head 11 or 12 times. Inserted in this was a plastic tube, part of which was bent up to reach her nostrils.

Alison Chambers, 16, was discovered with a leather belt fastened around her skull while a knotted cloth, square-folded and rolled to form a loop, was found next to the skull of Therese Siegenthaler, 21.

Lucy Partington, 21, had two pieces of woven cord-type material knotted together below her jaw, and Juanita Mott, 18, was discovered with a band of fabric passing under her jaw and around the back of her head and with a plastic covered rope wrapped around other bones.

A ring-mask of adhesive tape was found near the skull of Lynda Gough 19, and Carol Cooper, 15, was discovered with an elasticated cloth band around the low part of her skull which had been wound round her jaw and the back of her head.

There were no masks on Heather West, 16, or Shirley Robinson, 18, whose remains were also found at 25 Cromwell Street, or on those of Charmaine West, 8, daughter of Mr West's first wife Rena, discovered at their previous home at 25 Midland Road, Gloucester.

Professor Knight said that most of the bodies had been decapitated, dismembered and had the legs removed at the hip joints. The remains discovered at Cromwell Street were in "anatomical disarray" in graves too small for them to be buried full-length.

In every case bones were missing, most commonly one or both knee caps, and large numbers of wrist, ankle, toe and finger bones. There were cut marks made by sharp implements on many bones and a knife was found in Lucy Partington's grave.

Professor Knight said that it was not possible to give the cause of death in any of these cases or to say whether or not decapitation and dismemberment took place after the victims had died.

During the evidence about the remains of Heather West, her mother, who normally watches everything being said in the witness box, looked intently at the floor of the dock.

Earlier the jury had listened to tape recordings of police interviews with Mrs West after her arrest in February last year.

Detective Sergeant Terence Onions told her that Mr West had gone back to 25 Cromwell Street with police officers. DS Onions said: "During that visit to the house he indicated the officers were digging in the wrong area of the patio or garden. He then indicated where they should dig and indicated to what depth they should dig.

"A short while ago human remains have been recovered form the area which Mr West has indicated and for obvious reasons we believe those human remains to be those of your daughter Heather. Is there anything you want to say about that?" Mrs West shook her head and did not reply. DS Onions asked: "Was [Heather] killed because, as you said, she was different from the rest because she was going to blow the whistle on what happened in your house? Which, from statements I have read from your children, was a bit like a prison for them." Mrs West said: "I do not know nothing about it."

During the interview she told police that her husband had forced her to have sex with black men who paid him for this, and that she had slept with one of them the night after Heather vanished. She said that her husband was a violent man who had hit her on a number of occasions, once twisting her jaw, and that he had once tried to choke her.

The trial continues today.