Nickell hunt: Man questioned

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The Independent Online

Crime Correspondent

Detectives investigating the murder of Rachel Nickell on Wimbledon Common are due to question a man in New Zealand today.

Two officers from Scotland Yard arrived in New Zealand yesterday after a woman, recently released from prison, told the police that on the day of the murder in July 1992 she saw a man with a blood-stained shirt standing outside her flat near the Common.

The man police now wish to question is John Gallagher, 31, a barman who was living on the estate at the time of the killing. He left the area, along with his New Zealand girlfriend, to work in bars and restaurants in Scotland before moving to New Zealand.

The two detectives - Detective Chief Inspector Allan Jude, who is heading the three-year-old murder inquiry, and Detective Constable Russ Norval - have spoken to Mr Gallagher in New Zealand by telephone and arranged to interview him today.

The Scotland Yard team arrived in Auckland from London via Los Angeles and immediately caught a connecting flight to the small town of Hastings, on the east coast of North Island.

A Scotland Yard spokeswoman said the police had planned to speak to the man "in about a month's time" but had brought the meeting forward after newspapers ran stories about him.

Miss Nickell, 23, was walking on Wimbledon Common with her two-year-old son near her home in south London home when she was sexually assaulted and stabbed 49 times.

Inspector Lou Bennett, head of the New Zealand branch of Interpol, said local police officers would accompany the British detectives to the interview.

His address is being "monitored" by police, said Insp Bennett, who added that the man was not wanted for any offences in New Zealand and police had no power to detain him there should he wish to leave.

Scotland Yard refused to comment on reports that Mr Gallagher had been eliminated from inquiries early in the investigation after police were wrongly told he was in jail at the time of the killing. They also refused to discuss another report that a second witness saw a long-haired man wearing a dirty white top and dark trousers running from the Common on the day the body was found.