Press swamp public at West committal 1/36point

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The Independent Online
Amid massive media attention but only moderate public interest, the hearing that will decide whether Rosemary West will be committed for trial on 10 murder charges began yesterday. Scores of photographers and television cameramen outnumbered a small crowd of local people as Mrs West, 41, arrived for the hearing at Dursley magistrates' court, near Stroud, Gloucestershire, in a police van with blacked-out windows.

Some of the crowd, many of whom were pupils from a nearby school, booed and shouted "Burn her". When she left at the end of the day, several eggs were thrown at the van.

Only six members of the public turned up to claim the few seats that were allocated to them in the court and they left before the day's proceedings had finished.

By contrast, there were dozens of reporters in the small courthouse with special annexes served by a sound system to cope with the overflow from the court chamber.

Mrs West, from Gloucester, the widow of Frederick West, who hanged himself in Winson Green prison, Birmingham, on New Year's Day, faces 10 charges of murder and two charges of rape.

It is alleged that she and her late husband murdered their daughter, Heather West, his first wife's daughter, Charmaine West, Shirley Anne Robinson, Carole Ann Cooper, Alison Chambers, Lucy Partington, Juanita Mott, Lynda Gough, Shirley Hubbard and Therese Siegenthaler.

Nine of the victims were found at 29 Cromwell Street, Gloucester, where the Wests lived, while the remains of Charmaine West were discovered at the couple's previous home at 25 Midland Road, Gloucester.

Mrs West is jointly charged with other defendants on the two counts of rape; in one case with William Smith and in the other case with Whitley Purcell.

The committal hearing is being held before Peter Badge, the chief Metropolitan stipendiary magistrate, who will decide whether Mrs West has a case to answer.

Mrs West's lawyers, who asked for the hearing, argue that the case against her is flimsy and that media publicity has prejudiced her chances of receiving a fair trial.

Reporting restrictions have not been lifted and yesterday Mr Badge, 63, a full-time magistrate in London for 20 years, summoned reporters for a briefing before the hearing began. He said that committal proceedings were not to decide on a defendant's guilt or innocence but were "an inquiry by this court to see if there is sufficient evidence to put the defendant on trial at Crown Court".

He told the media that details of the proceedings and the evidence given to the hearing cannot be published and warned reporters that doing so could lead to imprisonment or a heavy fine.

Neil Butterfield QC is leading the case for the prosecution while Mrs West is represented by Sacha Wass at the hearing, which is expected to last a week.

The case has brought an unseasonal February boom to local hotels with the media booking scores of rooms while Rednock School, near the court house, is raising funds by charging £20 a day for parking and opening a temporary cafe in its sports pavilion.