Police rule out crimes at Tobin seaside home

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Police today ruled out any crimes linked to serial killer Peter Tobin at a second seaside property where he used to live.

Search teams and forensic archaeologists have spent 15 days excavating a large rear garden and forensically examining the basement areas of the house in Brighton.

But Sussex Police said the search revealed no evidence linking the property in Marine Parade to crimes by Tobin who lived there in the late 1980s.

A similar search at nearby Station Road, Portslade, ended last week after nine days of excavations which also ruled out any criminality by the 63-year-old Scottish handyman.

Operation Anagram, a national exercise by police forces across the UK, was set up to identify issues of concern relating to the killer.

Police started their investigations at the two addresses in East Sussex on July 12, convinced that Tobin claimed more victims as he lived across Britain under different names and trawled the motorways for vulnerable female hitch-hikers.

Detective Chief Inspector Nick Sloan, of Sussex Police's major crime branch, said: "As a result of work conducted under Operation Anagram, two addresses in Brighton and Hove were identified as there being enough intelligence to warrant searches of the back gardens and some interior spaces of the buildings.

"We have a duty to fully investigate any allegations of criminality and teams of specialists and experts undertook these complex searches.

"I am completely satisfied that we have conducted thorough and meticulous searches and that both addresses are unconnected to any criminality linked to Peter Tobin."

Tobin is serving three life sentences for killing Angelika Kluk, Vicky Hamilton and Dinah McNicol.

Due to illness, he missed another appearance at the Court of Appeal in Edinburgh last week to challenge his sentence for killing Vicky.

He was told last December he would die in jail after he was convicted of strangling 18-year-old Miss McNicol.

Tobin was already serving life terms for the murders of 15-year-old Vicky and Ms Kluk, 23.

Police discovered the remains of Vicky and Miss McNicol buried in the garden of a house in Margate, Kent, to which Tobin moved in March 1991.

At the start of the searches in East Sussex, police said their work behind flats in Marine Parade and a hairdressing salon in Portslade could last a month.

The Station Road hairdressing salon was once a cafe, Ye Olde Tea-room, run by Tobin in 1988 with Cathy Wilson, who later became his wife and with whom he had a son.

Neighbours recall Tobin doing a substantial amount of DIY on the property as he converted it from a junk shop and cleared the garden.

Marine Parade is now a large housing association block of flats which backs on to a small area of grass and concrete paving.

Investigators refused to go into detail about why police were targeting the two properties or what cases they may be linked to.

Police responsible for the inquiry are believed to have narrowed down their review of unsolved murders and disappearances linked to Tobin to nine cases.

These may include the murders of art student Jessie Earl, 22, whose body was found in 1989, and Louise Kay, 18, whose body was never found after she vanished after a night out in Eastbourne in 1988.

There are several other possible cases, including law student Pamela Exall, 22, who vanished in Norfolk in 1974, schoolgirl Patricia Morris, 14, who went missing in Essex in 1980, and Suzanne Lawrence, 14, last seen in Essex in 1979.

Other cases include the murders of three women in Glasgow in 1968 and 1969 by a figure nicknamed "Bible John", and the deaths of schoolgirls Karen Hadaway, 10, and Nicola Fellows, nine, in Brighton in October 1986.

Detectives attempted to speak to Tobin in prison about the latest developments but he refused to talk to them, and they remain keen to unravel further details of his life, particularly where he lived in 1977 and 1978.

Police said Tobin used several aliases, mostly variations of the same name, during around two decades in Brighton from 1969 when he lived at homes in Dyke Road, Regency Square, Eastern Street and Chadborn Close.

The search teams included members of the Home Office's scientific support branch and officers from the Metropolitan Police as well as Sussex Police experts and archaeologists from University College London.

The itinerant serial killer lived in several other towns and cities, including Glasgow and Havant, Hampshire. Police said he may have owned more than 100 vehicles and used 40 aliases.

Police said today that despite Tobin's failure to comply with officers, Operation Anagram continues to "meticulously examine" his life through information received from the public.

Mr Sloan said that "literally, no stone was left unturned" during the searches.

He added: "Commencing the search at both addresses on 12th July, we used ground penetrating radar to map out any unusual fluctuations in the ground within the garden and the property itself.

"Areas which necessitated further exploration were excavated and tonnes of earth and concrete have been analysed, sifted and metal-detected by Sussex Police search teams and archaeologist experts from University College London."

As part of the investigation, officers from Sussex Police's specialist search unit excavated two wells, one at each location.

Using confined space harnesses, it took the team a day to remove earth and rubble from each well, digging to a depth of 10ft in precarious conditions.

A Victorian soak-away was discovered in the basement of Station Road and confined space harnesses were used for an officer to gain access into small pockets of space underneath the cellar at Marine Parade which had been boarded up.

Mr Sloan said officers were still receiving calls from members of the public about Tobin and he renewed an appeal for other people with information to come forward.

Nikki Homewood, director of homelessness and complex needs services at Brighton Housing Trust, said: "During the last two-and-a-half weeks, we have worked closely with Sussex Police to assist them all we could during this sensitive operation.

"Police have ensured that they have given the Trust and all the residents support and have also taken into consideration their day-to-day needs, which have been affected by the work.

"We'd like to thank the liaison officers for their continued support, keeping us informed and up-to-date as the operation progressed.

"The process in place made it much the more bearable under such a high profile spotlight."

Tobin is believed to have been a caretaker or handyman at the Marine Parade property during the late 1980s when it was then called the Seafront Hotel.

Officers traced the company that converted the premises into bedsit-style accommodation in 1992.

A builder met police and visited the site to help search advisers with the layout of the building before the conversion.

Valerie Earl, 78, from Eltham, south-east London, said she believed there would be further developments in the investigation.

The body of her daughter, art student, Jessie Earl, 22, was found in undergrowth at Beachy Head near Eastbourne nine years after she disappeared from her bedsit in the resort.

Mrs Earl said today: "I don't think we've heard the end of this investigation. I think that one day something more positive will come about.

"Personally I thought these searches were a bit of a long shot, but I'm not disappointed. At least we are not in the position of some relatives where they haven't got a body.

"We were in that position for nine years and that was awful. I know that we don't know the where, the why or the how in our case, but we have some closure.

"From our point of view, the most that could have been found as part of these searches would have been artefacts relating to her."

Nicola Stork, 44, from Eastbourne, whose sister Louise Kay, 18, has never been found after she vanished following a night out in the town in 1988, expressed disappointment and relief.

She said simply: "It has been a really difficult couple of weeks."

Anyone with information can call Sussex Police on 0845 6070 999, quoting Operation Anagram, or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.