21 years for Broadmoor patient who killed two women
Friday 17 September 2010
A "sadistic" Broadmoor patient was jailed for a minimum of 21 years today after pleading guilty to killing two women more than 12 years ago and attacking two others for sexual kicks.
Graham Fisher, 37, admitted the manslaughter of reclusive Clare Letchford, 40, and 75-year-old widow Beryl O'Connor on the grounds of diminished responsibility.
The two vulnerable women were discovered strangled and burned in their flats less than 100 yards apart in Hastings, East Sussex, in January 1998.
At Lewes Crown Court, Fisher was given the indeterminate prison sentence after he admitted attempting to murder and trying to rape a student on a train in the same month as the killings.
Fisher also pleaded guilty to two counts of rape of another vulnerable woman in her early 40s at her home in Bromley, south east London, in 1991.
He confessed to the offences while being held at the high-security psychiatric hospital two years ago after saying he found it hard to live with his crimes, the court heard.
Prosecutors said Fisher targeted lonely women, some of whom he knew, to satisfy what one psychiatrist described as a "sexually sadistic" aspect to his personality.
He told investigators, after confessing to the rapes, that he gained a thrill from seeing his victim frightened.
He said: "She looked really scared but this really turned me on even more."
Fisher, deemed to have a severe and enduring complex personality disorder, also admitted cutting a piece of flesh from the arm of Ms Letchford and eating it.
Police were unable to retrieve forensic evidence from any of the crimes Fisher committed.
They only came to light years later after he developed a sense of regret and confessed to officials at high-security Broadmoor in Crowthorne, Berkshire, in 2008.
He was transferred there under the Mental Health Act part-way through serving a five-year jail term for indecently assaulting two Spanish students at knifepoint in Eastbourne in May 1998.
Shaven-headed Fisher told a doctor that he felt it necessary to confess to his earlier crimes "because it's so hard to live with it in my head".
In the weeks and months after the killings, police had questioned Fisher about them but during one interview he was deemed unfit to be interrogated and on a later occasion he declined to answer questions.
Prosecutor Richard Barton told the court there was insufficient evidence at the time to charge him over the deaths and he was released by officers.
As part of his confessions in 2008, Fisher also claimed responsibility for crimes where there was insufficient evidence and where no complaints had been made, Mr Barton added.
His admission to the killings came 10 years after his former neighbours Ms O'Connor, known as Dornie, and Ms Letchford were found strangled and burned in their flats in January 1998.
Mr Barton said Ms Letchford's father, Frank Letchford, made his usual Sunday visit to his daughter's rented flat in Cornwallis Gardens, Hastings, where she lived alone, on January 18 1998.
In the evening, hours after he had left without anything out of the ordinary happening, neighbours reported seeing smoke belching from her basement flat.
Fire crews sent to the scene found two seats of fire - one in the sofa in the living room and a second in the hallway where they found Ms Letchford's body.
Found lying on her back, flammable material had been placed on her and there was evidence of non-fatal compression of her neck, Mr Barton said.
He went on: "Despite exhaustive police inquiries at the time of the murder of Clare Letchford, it wasn't until 2008 that Graham Fisher confessed to it.
"Sadly Frank Letchford died before then and was not to know that someone had admitted causing the death of his daughter."
Days after Ms Letchford's killing, Fisher tried to murder and attempted to rape a 19-year-old Czech student on board the 13.11 Hastings to London Charing Cross service on January 25 1998.
Mr Barton said he tricked his way into the lavatory after seeing her walk in before launching a violent attack on her, rendering her unconscious.
He said: "The attack happened on the way up but she was not found until it was coming back out of London when a guard found the cubicle blocked by her body."
As a result of being strangled, she suffered a stroke, was left in a coma for three days and her injuries leave a lasting impact to this day, Mr Barton added.
In a victim impact statement, she said she has gone on to marry but has had to learn to speak and walk again and has had only limited opportunities to work.
The day after the attack on the student, Ms O'Connor was killed in her top-floor flat in Holmesdale Gardens, Hastings, close to Ms Letchford's home.
Ms O'Connor, who had recently celebrated her 75th birthday, had lived next door to Fisher in the autumn of 1997 and made a strange phone call to a friend on the day of her death.
She told the friend: "I'm coming down, I'm coming down, all right I'm coming down."
Later that afternoon, a neighbour heard an alarm sound and saw smoke coming from her flat.
When fire crews arrived, they found Ms O'Connor's body behind a closed door in her spare room with lit newspapers stacked around her.
A post-mortem examination found she died from smoke inhalation. She had bruising around her neck and face, indicating some form of manual strangulation.
Fisher also confessed to raping a woman he knew at her home in Bromley, south-east London, on two separate occasions in 1991, Mr Barton said.
After forcing his way into her home, he raped her in her hallway and in her living room.
A day or two afterwards, Fisher returned to the property for a second time and found the woman, who was vulnerable, sleeping in the hallway.
He stripped himself, grabbed her across the mouth to stop her screaming and attacked her again, saying later that a "strong surge of anger" made him do it.
Despite the woman confiding to relatives about what happened, no-one reported the incident to police. It was not until Fisher confessed while being held in Broadmoor that an investigation was launched.
Two years after the rapes, Fisher moved to the Isle of Wight in 1993.
A year later he received a two-year prison sentence for assault and false imprisonment after he tied up his ex-partner and tried to strangle her, as well as burning her son on his genitals.
After being freed from prison in 1995, he moved to Kent and lived an itinerant lifestyle around Maidstone and Gravesend before moving to Hastings where the killings took place.
Dr Philip Joseph, a consultant forensic psychiatrist, told the court that Fisher had a "sexually sadistic aspect to his personality" and that a lot of his rage stemmed from an unhappy childhood.
The court also heard that Fisher had since shown remorse for his crimes and had wanted to bring some form of closure to the victims' families.
Judge Mr Justice Keith said Fisher's detention in hospital under the Mental Health Act would be subject to progress of his treatment.
But he added that it could be decades before Fisher is released back into the community.
The judge said: "Over a period of a week or so in January 1998, no woman who Graham Fisher encountered was safe from him.
"During that time he killed or was party to the killing of two women who each had been alone in their flats and each had been vulnerable. In the case of one, due to her fragile mental state of health, and in the case of the other was elderly."
Mr Justice Keith added that it was "to his credit" that he decided while he was at Broadmoor "to get these terrible crimes off his chest, because he was concerned that he was too dangerous at that stage to be transferred from Broadmoor to a less secure hospital but also because he wanted to remain at Broadmoor".
The judge said that Fisher was "far less equipped than others to exercise willpower to control his abnormal sexual and aggressive urges".
Fisher had initially claimed that, although he was present when Ms O'Connor died, she was killed by an alleged accomplice.
But the prosecution rejected his suggestion, saying that striking similarities between the killing of Ms Letchford and that of Ms O'Connor led them to believe they were committed by the same person.
Later Fisher told officers: "I'm going to plead guilty to any charge you see fit to charge me with in relation to this case."
In mitigation, Fisher's defence counsel Jeremy Dein QC said experts found his difficult childhood could account for his actions.
He said: "All of the experts observe that his experiences as a child and into his teenage years blurred his sexual boundaries and rendered him incapable of controlling himself where his sexual conduct was concerned, and made him very disturbed in terms of his approach to such situations."
After the sentencing, Detective Chief Inspector Trevor Bowles, of Sussex Police's major crime branch, said: "This was a long and complex investigation, which was first re-examined in 2007.
"A review of the case followed and it was during this period that Fisher's admissions in Broadmoor began.
"The six offences to which Fisher pleaded guilty demonstrate the extreme danger he poses to the public. His offences have wrecked the lives of many individuals and families.
"We worked closely with the complex case unit of the Crown Prosecution Service and I am grateful to them and to our leading counsel, Richard Barton, as well as my investigative team, who have all shown the passion and desire to seek justice for Fisher's victims."
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