'I want justice for girls who didn't make it'

Rosemary West trial: Guilt and remorse of sex attack victim still undergoing therapy 23 years after assault at Cromwell Street
Click to follow
The Independent Online
WILL BENNETT

The victim of a sex attack by Rosemary and Frederick West broke down in the witness box at Winchester Crown Court yesterday, saying she blamed herself for the Cromwell Street killings.

"I want to get justice for the girls that didn't make it, because I feel like it is my fault," said Caroline Owens, who then started to sob and slumped forward in the witness box.

Mr Justice Mantell, the judge, asked somebody to help her and an usher assisted Mrs Owens, 39, from the court.

On Tuesday, Mrs Owens had told the court that in December 1972 the Wests picked her up while she was hitch-hiking. She was then knocked unconscious, bound and gagged and taken to 25 Cromwell Street, Gloucester, where she was raped by Mr West and sexually assaulted by both of them.

She was giving evidence at the trial of Mrs West, 41, who denies murdering 10 girls and young women whose remains were found at Cromwell Street and at the Wests' previous home in Gloucester.

Mr West, who was charged with 12 murders, was found dead in his prison cell on 1 January this year.

It was revealed in a statement read out in court yesterday that Mrs Owens attempted suicide by taking a drugs overdose four years after the attack and that she is still receiving counselling more than 20 years later.

In the statement that Mrs Owens made to police last year, she said: "After the abduction and rape in 1972, I was very depressed and had low self- esteem. I was prescribed librium tablets to help by my family doctor."

She said that in 1976 she had moved to Weston-super-Mare. "A doctor there prescribed me mild tranquillisers, siniquon, I think. The next day I took an overdose, about 25 tablets."

Mrs Owens was taken to hospital where her stomach was pumped, but her problems have continued and she said in the statement that she was still being helped by a counselling service in Gloucester.

The statement continued: "I have been very sensitive to people being close to me and cuddling me since being abducted by Fred and Rose. In particular, I am wary of other adult females even friends. I have a terrible feeling of worthlessness.

"When I became aware of the women that had been murdered and the alleged involvement of Fred and Rose West in 1994, I felt anger, frustration, guilt. I felt that if I had gone to court on my rape case, I could have stopped it."

Mrs Owens explained in evidence yesterday that she could have insisted that Mr West was charged with rape. Instead, she settled for both the Wests being charged with assault causing actual bodily harm and indecent assault.

The couple pleaded guilty to both charges when they appeared at Gloucester magistrates' court in January 1973 and were fined pounds 50 each. A rape conviction would have certainly resulted in a jail sentence for Mr West, just three months before the disappearance of Lynda Gough - the first victim found in the Cromwell Street cellar.

Mrs Owens, who worked for the Wests as a nanny, said yesterday that she felt ashamed about the attack and also because she had previously had sexual intercourse with Ben Staniland and Alan Davies, two lodgers at Cromwell Street.

She said: "The police treated me really badly. That put me off going to court as well. I decided to cover it all up. I put it to the back of my mind."

Mrs Owens admitted yesterday that she had signed a contract with the Sun newspaper for pounds 20,000 for her exclusive story, pounds 9,500 of which had already been paid. She had also been approached by other newspapers and television networks and had turned down an offer of pounds 50,000 from the Sunday Mirror.

Under cross-examination by Richard Ferguson, QC, defending Mrs West, she strongly denied that she had embroidered the details of her story in order to make it more saleable to the media.

Mr Ferguson suggested that Mrs West had not had oral sex with her, that Mr West did not knock her unconscious and later beat her with a belt, and that she had not been tied up or raped. Mrs Owens replied: "I swear on my baby's life they did take place."

Mr Ferguson said: "You have added these details in a process of making your account more dramatic and more commercial when it came to selling it."

Mrs Owens replied: "I had no intention of selling my story. I had already told the police the details. I did not go to the papers, I didn't want them to find me but they did."

But Mr Ferguson later made an admission on behalf of the defence. He said: "The defence admits that the contents of Mrs Owens's police statements in 1994 are the same in all material particulars as the account she gave during the course of her evidence and the contents of the document which she later handed to the Sun newspaper."

Re-examined by Brian Leveson, QC, for the prosecution, Mrs Owens said that during the attack Mrs West was "grinning and laughing wickedly - she looked evil to me".

It was when Mr Leveson asked her "has commercial advantage anything to do with why you have come to court today?" that Mrs Owens said she had done so for the girls who died and broke down in tears.

The next witness was the mother of Lynda Gough, who told the jury how she had visited the Wests' home to look for her daughter after she went missing.

June Gough said that on 19 April, 1973, her daughter left their home in Gloucester without warning and took all her possessions with her. She left a note which said: "I have got a flat and I will come and see you some time."

When Lynda, 19, did not get in touch, her parents became worried and Mrs Gough made inquiries which led about two weeks later to Cromwell Street.

The door there was answered by a woman who she recognised as having once come to the Goughs' home to take Lynda out for a drink. A man joined the woman at the door.

She told the court: "I said that I'd come to see Lynda. They said she wasn't there. That she had left. They said she was going to Weston-super- Mare.

"I immediately noticed that she was wearing Lynda's slippers and some other article of clothing which I can't immediately bring to mind.

"I said: 'But those are Lynda's slippers you are wearing and there are some of Lynda's things on the washing line.' She said that she had left them behind when she left.

"I was saying all this but I got no feedback, there was nothing coming back," said Mrs Gough, who continued to search for her daughter.

She went to the police, the Salvation Army and to Weston-super-Mare - all to no avail. More than 20 years later, Lynda's remains were found in the cellar at Cromwell Street.

The trial continues today.

Comments