Rumour of local killer fills the valley of death

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The Independent Online
MANDY POWER knew the person who killed her - the police are certain of that. She knew the person who arrived at her home in the early hours and clubbed her repeatedly with a metal rod, who then went upstairs and murdered her children and disabled mother. She knew the person who sexually assaulted her and then set fire to the house to cover their tracks.

And so too, it seems, does everyone else in Clydach, a small village in the Swansea valley, where Mrs Power, 34, was born, grew up and was murdered.

Yesterday, as detectives released new information about the killings, the small community was rife with rumour and counter-rumour. Though few locals wish to speak about the matter to outsiders, among themselves the talk is of little else.

"Everyone seems to have their own opinion about this. It really is getting in the way," said Detective Superintendent Martyn Lloyd-Evans, who is leading the inquiry. "I wish they would just let us get on with our job trying to solve this case."

The facts are horrific but straightforward. In the early hours of 27 June, firefighters were called to the rented house at 9 Kelvin Road where Mrs Power - who separated from her husband two years ago - lived with her daughters, Katie, 10, and Emily, 8, and her mother, Doris Dawson, an 80-year-old who relied on a walking frame to get around.

The emergency services found four bodies, but it very quickly became apparent that this was no ordinary house-fire tragedy. Forensic science tests showed that each of the victims had been killed before the fire was started, clubbed almost beyond recognition with a thin, 4ft metal bar. Mrs Power was naked and had been sexually assaulted.

The killings, particularly of the children, have shocked Clydach, an unremarkable south Wales village where the dark tower of the now-closed nickel smelter - once the source of its relative prosperity - is now its brooding landmark.

"It's the killing of the children that we cannot understand," said Mervyn Hughes, a Kelvin Road resident for the past 30 years. "You simply don't expect it around here."

But everyone knows there is even more to it. Within hours of the murder it was revealed that Mrs Power was having a lesbian affair with Alison Lewis, a former British martial arts champion and a former member of the Welsh women's rugby team.

The couple had met when Mrs Power started watching Uplands Women's Rugby team in nearby Swansea, where Mrs Lewis - a former South Wales Police officer who is married to a serving officer - was an imposing winger. Soon they started an intense but secret relationship.

If this was not enough, the same day that Mrs Power and her children were discovered dead Mrs Lewis tried to kill herself by taking an overdose and then throwing herself from the upstairs window of her marital home.

She survived and was taken to a psychiatric unit, from which she was released this week. Her husband was given compassionate leave by the force and took their two children to visit relatives in Germany.

It has been this aspect of the case - the focus on Mrs Power's private life - that has angered many of her friends.

"Everyone seems to forget that she was a bloody good mother who doted on her children," said one friend, who declined to be named.

"All anyone wants to talk about is that she was having a lesbian affair with a married woman. I think it is distracting people when they should be trying to help the police find the killer."

Yet the police know - as is the case with nearly every murder - that it is in Mrs Power's private life that they are most likely to find the answer to this case. Yesterday they appealed for information about a white car seen parked near Mrs Power's house shortly before the bodies were discovered.

Det Supt Lloyd-Evans said a new witness had spotted a white, diesel car in the road at about 12.45am that morning. "We want this person to contact us so we can eliminate them from our inquiries," he said.

He previously revealed that a neighbour had seen a diesel car pull up outside Mrs Power's house with its doors open. The car then pulled away shortly before someone was noticed in the hallway of the house.

Yet most locals believe South Wales Police already know who the killer is and - after a series of high-profile cases in which people convicted of murder have been freed on appeal - are merely taking their time to make sure they get all the evidence. Three weeks on, scenes of crime officers were still busy at Mrs Power's pebble-dashed house yesterday.

It may also be this aspect that is upsetting the people of Clydach as they go about organising charity concerts and selling purple ribbons to pay for the four funerals and to set up a memorial fund. It is not that they have no idea who is responsible; rather they fear they may well know them personally.