Police make arrest in hunt for Ipswich murderer

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The Independent Online

A former special constable was arrested yesterday on suspicion of murdering five Ipswich prostitutes after apparently having been first questioned by police several weeks before any of the bodies were found.

Tom Stephens, 37, a supermarket worker from a nearby village, has claimed to be close to all the victims and to have been interviewed by detectives before the last victims were murdered.

He was arrested at 7.20am yesterday at his home in the village of Trimley St Martin, a couple of miles from where the naked bodies of the last three victims of the so-called Ipswich Ripper were discovered last week. He was being questioned by detectives at an undisclosed police station in Suffolk last night.

The five dead women, all prostitutes and drug users aged between 19 and 29, were found in rural settings within 10 miles of Ipswich.

Yesterday, police sealed of the end of the cul-de-sac where Mr Stephens has lived for the past few months as forensic experts conducted a search.

Mr Stephens's arrest was announced by Detective Chief Superintendent Stewart Gull, who has been leading the murder inquiry. It was reported that police are considering five other suspects and that the killer may still be at large.

In a bizarre twist, Mr Stephens had already given two lengthy media interviews over the past week describing his relationship with all of the murdered women but claiming to be innocent of the killings.

In his interviews with the BBC and the Sunday Mirror, Mr Stephens claims to have been questioned in November, following the disappearance of the first girl, Tania Nicol, 19, who was last seen on October 30. He also claims to have been interviewed a further three times, at least once under caution, although last week police said no such formal interviews had taken place.

He also claimed that computers and mobile phones have been examined by police and neighbours said yesterday that forensic search teams examined his house about 10 days ago.

Mr Stephens, who was born and brought up in the East Anglia area, said in his interviews that he was a 'sad and lonely man' who turned to prostitutes following the break-up of his marriage three years ago. He is understood to have been a volunteer Special Constable in Norfolk between 1992 and 1997. He is believed to have worked since 1997 for Tesco at Martlesham, on the eastern side of Ipswich. The supermarket chain refused to comment but confirmed that he had been suspended.

The second prostitute, Gemma Adams, went missing on November 15; her body was discovered on December 2. Ms Nicol's body was discovered on December 8. The third woman to go missing was Anneli Alderton, 24, last seen on December 3. Her body was found in Nacton, a week later. Last Tuesday, the bodies of Paula Clennell, 24 and Annette Nicholls, 29, were discovered in Levington.

Neighbours of Mr Stephens said that few people had got to know him. One, Lesley Anne Barber, said: "He was tall, thin, and strange. He didn't seem the sort of person that would want to have anything to do with anyone. "