Fear grips 'safe community' as police link Twickenham killing to past attacks

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The Independent Online

A cricket sightscreen on Twickenham Green was dismantled and removed by police yesterday as the hunt continued for the killer of Amélie Delagrange, a French student.

A cricket sightscreen on Twickenham Green was dismantled and removed by police yesterday as the hunt continued for the killer of Amélie Delagrange, a French student.

Detectives believe her attacker may have concealed himself behind the screen as she took a short cut across the green on her way home after a night out in south-west London.

The murder of the 22-year-old, bludgeoned to death from behind on Thursday night, is being linked to at least three other attacks within a three-mile radius, one of them fatal. The link, beyond simple geography, is that all three victims were blonde, young and female.

The attacks have left a deep sense of anxiety and unease in a community that boasts the lowest crime rate in the Metropolitan Police area.

Police have little to go on. No murder weapon has been found and detectives said yesterday that it could have been a hammer, a metal bar, a pole or even a brick. Ms Delagrange's mobile telephone is still missing as is her handbag and contents, although robbery is not believed to be a motive. A pair of gloves discovered in the vicinity of the green are being examined but are not being given a high priority. One theory is that the killer is local, another that he works on the buses, but it remains too early to say whether either will lead anywhere.

CCTV footage released yesterday showed snippets of Ms Delagrange's journey from the Cristalz wine bar on London Road. She travelled on the number 267 bus, alighting near the Fulwell bus garage, and set out on a 15-minute walk past the Loch Fyne restaurant before taking the short cut across Twickenham Green.

Edel Harbison, 34, an accountant who was attacked in April just two roads away, urged witnesses to come forward with information. "It has been four months since I was attacked and this incident has brought back to me how fortunate I was to survive," she said. "I'm determined to assist the police in any way possible to catch the person or persons responsible.

"Although I am still suffering as a result of my injuries I was getting to the stage where I could start to think and talk about everyday activities and not just the assault."

In January 2003, a 17-year-old student was left for dead in nearby Strawberry Hill after being struck on the head. She survived. Detectives working on the murder of Marsha McDonnell who was killed in February 2003 in neighbouring Hampton have been drafted in to help the inquiry. A 16-year-old detained under the Mental Health Act was the prime suspect in the case although police said yesterday they were unable to confirm that was still so.

Detective Chief Superintendent Andy Murphy warned that women in the area should be careful. "This is a very safe area but I would advise everybody to take wise precautions and consider where they are walking and to avoid taking short cuts through common ground,'' he said.

While there were similarities between all three attacks and even a fourth involving a teenage boy in 2003, he said police still had little to go on. No one had come forward to report hearing or seeing anything at the time of the attack and they had no description of a suspect.

For local women, the question is how to continue leading normal lives under a cloud of fear. Francesca Jakobi, 32, described how she was returning home from her night shift on Sunday. As she waited for a taxi at Strawberry Hill station, three women came up and asked her if she was OK and needed help getting home. "People are looking out for each other a lot more. Part of the reason this has been hard for people is because even though, statistically speaking, we are more likely to be attacked in other parts of London, people here have grown complacent about crime. After the attack on Marsha McDonnell, people were anxious but we assumed they had the right person and then people put it behind them.''

The local MP, Vincent Cable, said it was the very sense of security that was now undermining people's confidence. "There is a general sense of shock and outrage because Twickenham is such a law-abiding place,'' he said.