Three-in-bed axe killings baffle police

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The Independent Online
IT LOOKS an unremarkable ground-floor flat, with its faded curtains and grubby brick front. At the back, a dejected-looking toy dog stares out of the window.

The street is equally unsurprising. Scruffy, but not derelict, the terraced houses are inhabited by a mixture of Indian families and white and Nigerian tenants. Wellesley Road, in the centre of Slough, west of London, used to be considered a relatively safe, if dull place to live.

But in the past eight days the atmosphere on the street has dramatically altered. Parents are fearful for their children's safety, teenagers come home early, and elderly people stay tucked up inside. Late-night shopping at the nearby Tesco superstore is a thing of the past.

The reason for the transformation is that on Thursday 3 September at number 2a, three lovers were found hacked to death with a 18-inch axe.

The man - for it is almost certainly a man - who carried out the attack has been described by the detective heading the murder inquiry as "deranged". He is still free and police are struggling to find a motive for the killing. The chances are that he is hiding somewhere fairly near - perhaps 30 miles up the road in London, or in Slough.

Random murders are rare in Britain - they formed a tiny proportion of the 711 homicides in England and Wales last year - but triple murders in which the killer has no obvious link with his victims are almost unheard of.

One of the lines of inquiry being considered by the 30-strong police investigation team is that the killings could be the latest tragic consequence of "care in the community". This follows reports that a man, described as "hot-tempered" and showing signs of mental distress, had been seen drinking with one of the victims.

For the past two years, Gillian Harvey, 30, had rented the flat in Wellesley Road. By all reports she was a model lodger - paying her rent on time and keeping the noise down.

Described by friends and neighbours as "friendly", "nice" and "a bit backward", she had just begun work as an escort at the charity Age Concern.

Francis Gahan, an old boyfriend, told his local newspaper: "She was a very backward girl and very gullible. You could say anything to her and she would believe it. Her heart was in the right place ... but because she was so slow, people used to take advantage of her."

But Ms Harvey had at least two close friends, both of whom were to die in her two-bedroom flat. Ian Brown, 36, a self- employed painter and decorator, was her sometimes live-in boyfriend, although he owned another property in the town. Peter Smith, 31, a railway station employee and former boyfriend, lived close by with his parents. The three often spent nights in the flat drinking and playing computer games.

The victims were reported missing by relatives at the beginning of the month and the police made several visits to the flat. Spurred on by complaints about the foul smell seeping out of, officers finally broke in at 7.59pm on 3 September.

Detective Superintendent Trevor Davies, who is in charge of the inquiry, recalled: "There was a substantial amount of blood. For the police who went in, to find a scene like that is a harrowing experience."

There was no sign of forced entry and no sign that the flat had been ransacked - suggesting that whoever carried out the killing knew his victims. There is also no evidence to suggest that the three were heavily involved in drugs.

Det Supt Davies said that the three victims appeared to have a "unique" relationship and had enjoyed each other's company.

Yesterday, there was a solitary police officer on duty outside the end- of-terrace flat, which is yards from a busy dual carriageway. Crash barriers and police tape surrounded 2a. Two small bunches of flowers were wedged between a wall and a road sign.

Mohammed Chune, 28, who lives two doors down, has become a taxi driver for his friends who are frightened of walking to work in the early morning. "They are scared to be on their own. They even come back early if they have been out clubbing," he said.

An elderly lady said she had lived on the street for a year. "I'd leave like a shot if I could - I feel terrified after what happened."

Mohammed Rehman, 62, has lived next to 2A since 1971. "Some of my children are scared to go out. My family are terrified that something like this could happen next door," he said.