Guilty: the forklift truck driver who murdered five vulnerable women

More than a year after Ipswich was paralysed by fear, the man accused of being one of the most brazen murderers of recent history was convicted of killing five of the town's young women.

After less than six hours' deliberation, the jury returned guilty verdicts on every count yesterday and Steve Wright went from being an unremarkable forklift truck driver with a passion for golf to becoming one of Britain's most notorious killers.

The six-week trial heard how the 49-year-old preyed on vulnerable drug addicts who sold their bodies to men on the streets of Ipswich. In just over a month and a half, he picked off five of them one by one, squeezed the life out of them by suffocating or strangling them and dumped their naked bodies in remote areas.

On at least two occasions he left their bodies posed in the shape of a crucifix.

As each guilty verdict was met with gasps and sobs from the families of the women in the public gallery at Ipswich Crown Court, Wright stared ahead impassively. Minutes later, as the news sunk in, he slumped forward in the dock.

Wright had claimed he was the victim of a string of coincidences and denied murder. Admitting he used local prostitutes, he said he had picked up each of the women and slept with four of them. That, he insisted, was why his DNA was on three of the less decomposed bodies and fibres from his car, clothes and home were found on all five.

But yesterday the jury convicted him of murdering Tania Nicol, 19, between 29 October and 9 December; Gemma Adams, 25, between 13 November and 3 December; Anneli Alderton, 24, between 2 and 11 December; Annette Nicholls, 29, between 7 and 13 December and Paula Clennell, 24, between 9 and 13 December.

While murder carries an automatic life sentence, the trial judge Mr Justice Gross will decide today whether that should mean a whole life term or a lesser tariff.

After the verdicts, the family of Tania Nicol called for the death penalty for the "monster" who had taken the teenager's life, adding: "We would like to say that justice has been done but we are afraid that while five young lives have been cruelly ended, the person responsible will be kept warm, nourished and protected."

Through her son-in-law Craig Bradshaw, Paula Clennell's mother, Isabella, said: "It's hard to explain the grief, sorrow, hurt and anger my family and I have suffered. I feel the pain will never go away."

The family of Annette Nicholls said that "no punishment will ever be enough" but added: "At least we can rest knowing that this man is no longer on the streets of Ipswich, ready to take another girl's life."

The trial was told that even as police forces from across the country were called in to help the investigation, Wright continued to cruise the red-light district, picking off his final victim after three of the women's bodies had already been discovered.

With no witnesses left alive to tell the tale, Wright was convicted by scientific evidence linking him to his victims' bodies.

The most telling piece of evidence, according to Michael Crimp, counsel for the prosecution, was the discovery of a black nylon fibre from the footwell of Wright's car in Tania Nicol's hair. This was despite her body having been put in water. The accused was also unable to explain satisfactorily the presence of the blood from two of his victims on his jacket. His DNA had been on record since 2002, when he had been convicted of stealing £84 from a till in a pub where he worked.

Two questions remain. Firstly, has Wright murdered before? Some reports suggest that police want to interview him over the death of Suzy Lamplugh, who vanished in 1986, as well as other unsolved cases. Ms Lamplugh met Wright when they both worked on the QE2, and they stayed in touch. However, Detective Chief Superintendent Stewart Gull said: "I will not speculate, but currently we are not aware of any evidence which directly links Steve Wright to any other crime."

And, secondly, why did he do it? In the words of Robert Sadd, for the prosecution: "We will probably never know."

Mr Gull added: "Unless Steve Wright chooses to tell us we can only speculate."

Last night Wright's father, Conrad, said his son was "placid" and gave no signals he could be a killer.

He told ITV News he had "never, ever had any problem whatsoever."

He added: "He was just normal – he'd get up, go to work and come home, eat his meals, watch the television, there was nothing."

But other women who came into contact with Wright came forward yesterday, painting a different picture. Abi, 32, a prostitute who lives in Norwich, said she saw Wright for paid sex once a month between June 2005 and June 2006. She said he picked her up from the city's red light district, more than 40 miles from his Ipswich home. "He didn't want to do it on his doorstep," she said. "I know he had a partner but he said his sex life had stopped. He said they were arguing a lot. I never felt unsafe or threatened. I trusted him completely but now I can see that trust may have made me more vulnerable."

Page, 40, a prostitute who worked on the streets of Ipswich with Miss Nicholls, added: "Steve often picked up Annette and me at the end of the night and would drop me off at home.

"I never had sex with him but I was in the car with him four or five times. He had cold eyes. He was very quiet. They say it's the quiet ones you have to look out for."

Young lives destroyed by addiction

TANIA NICOL, 19

The youngest of the victims. Her mother Kerry Nicol and father Jim Duell remember her as a "loving, sensitive girl who never hurt anyone"'.

But heroin addiction saw her life fall apart as she entered her "own secret world" of prostitution to feed the habit, pretending to her parents that she was working as a hairdresser.

"She got in with the wrong crowd," said her mother. "That should be a warning to anyone. I knew nothing of her secret life until police told me." Miss Nicol vanished on the night of 30 October. She was last seen getting into Wright's car on Handford Road in the city.

Her body lay undiscovered for more than five weeks until it was found by police divers in a brook near Copdock on 8 December.

GEMMA ADAMS, 25

Teachers at the Kesgrave High School remember Miss Adams as "an ordinary intelligent girl from a nice family". A courteous, animated child, she had grown up with her two siblings in a large detached house on the outskirts of Ipswich, joining the Brownies, horse-riding and learning the piano. She was, her brother Jack added, "kind-hearted, fun-loving and humorous".

But at 15 she met her childhood sweetheart Jon Simpson and the pair descended into a spiral of heroin addiction. She failed to keep her job at an insurance company and began working as a prostitute. In the early hours of 15 November she disappeared from the red light district. Seventeen days later, her naked body was in a brook at Hintlesham, seven miles from Ipswich.

ANNELI ALDERTON, 24

A polite, intelligent, well-turned out youngster, Miss Alderton lost her father when she was 16. With her mother Maire and brother Tom she moved to Cyprus in the early nineties. She was regarded as an excellent student. The family returned to Ipswich, where she spent her teenage years, but by the age of 17 she had turned to drugs. It was to lead to several spells in jail and a life as a prostitute. Just the day before she disappeared, the single mother was out buying Christmas presents for her young child. On 3 December, the day after the first body was found, she vanished. A week later her naked body was found by a dog walker, posed in a crucifix shape, in an isolated spot near Nacton.

PAULA CLENNELL, 24

Paula Clennell told a television interviewer that she had become a "bit wary about getting into cars".

Five days later, the mother-of-three became the fifth and final victim of the Steve Wright. A "kindhearted, generous and loving soul", Miss Clennell had moved to East Anglia a decade earlier after her parents Brian and Isabella separated. She started using heroin at 17 and it led to a life on the streets to feed her addiction. On the 10 December, 2006, when her boyfriend refused to give her money for drugs, she stormed out saying: "I'll show him."

Her body was discovered on 12 December "hurriedly dumped" off the Old Felixstowe Road. She had three young daughters who had been taken into care before she died. It has since emerged that she wrote to them asking them to "forgive" her absence, but she never got to send the card.

Friends say she was depressed and deeply saddened by the fact that her children had been seperated from her.

ANNETTE NICHOLLS, 29

By her early 20s, Annette Nicholls had completed a four-year beautician's course at Suffolk College in Ipswich and was looking forward to setting up her own business. Then virtually overnight, in her mid-twenties, the young single mother became hooked on heroin and took up prostitution to fund her habit. A mother of one, Netty, as her friends remember her, had enjoyed writing poetry but the drugs had changed her character beyond recognition.

On 8 December, 2006, she was last seen in the centre of Ipswich. Four days later her body was found – posed in a crucifix shape – by a police helicopter sent up to survey the scene at Levington where Miss Clennell's remains were found.

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