Police search serial killer Peter Tobin's former homes

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Detectives investigating suspected murders linked to serial killer Peter Tobin began digging up two gardens today.

Teams of police officers and archaeologists descended on two properties in Brighton, East Sussex, armed with ground-penetrating radar and shovels.

They were searching for bodies or other evidence left by the 63-year-old when he lived at the addresses in the 1980s.

The move marked a dramatic escalation in a nationwide behind-the-scenes inquiry, dubbed Anagram, focusing on Tobin's lifetime of crime and violence.

Police are convinced Tobin claimed more victims as he lived across Britain under different names and trawled the motorways for vulnerable female hitch-hikers.

Tobin was told last December that he would die in jail after he was convicted of strangling 18-year-old Dinah McNicol.

The former church handyman was already serving life terms for the murders of 15-year-old Vicky Hamilton and Angelika Kluk, 23.

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

Detective Chief Inspector Nick Sloan, of Sussex Police, said of today's searches that officers must "satisfy themselves" that no crimes were committed at either property.

He said: "It does appear that Tobin was fairly active at those addresses at those times. As long as there are lines of inquiry, we will continue.

"We have to consider the families of those who may have been one of his victims and it is imperative that they find closure. We will strive to achieve this."

Chief Inspector Laurence Taylor said: "At the moment these are not crime scenes. We do not know what is going to be there."

Police said the searches behind flats in Marine Parade, Brighton, and a hairdressing salon in Station Road, Portslade, could continue for a month.

The Station Road hairdressing salons were once a cafe, Ye Olde Tea-room, run by Tobin in 1988 with his future wife, Cathy Wilson, and their baby 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 a large housing association block of flats which backs on to a small area of grass and concrete paving.

Investigators have 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 Anagram 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, who disappeared in Eastbourne in 1989. Her body has never been found.

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 has lived in several other towns and cities, including Glasgow, Margate, Kent, and Havant, Hampshire. Police said he may have owned more than 100 vehicles and used 40 aliases.

Police told Miss Earl's parents, John and Valerie, about the searches but did not suggest there was any fresh evidence connecting Tobin to their daughter's death.

Mr Earl, from Eltham, south east London, said: "There's absolutely nothing new come out of this as far as we are concerned.

"For the last 30 years we've seen the occasional possibility - and, OK, Tobin is another strong possibility, but that's all it is unless the police come up with something completely new."

Sharron Barlow, who runs the Scizzor Sisters barber's shop in Station Road, said she was aware of the serial killer's links to the property.

She said: "We've all read the story. I expected this a couple of years ago, but today was a bit of a surprise."

Detective Superintendent David Swindle, from Strathclyde Police, is leading the UK-wide investigation into Tobin's past.

He said: "This latest development in Operation Anagram will bring back so many tragic memories for the families of Angelika Kluk, Dinah McNicol and Vicky Hamilton, and my sincere thoughts go out to them."

He added: "Whilst there continues to be a lot of speculation surrounding Peter Tobin, there is no evidence at this time to link him to other crimes and hopefully this activity being conducted by Sussex Police will allow Operation Anagram to assess what other crimes Peter Tobin has committed or, indeed, has not committed.

"Operation Anagram continues to meticulously examine the life of Peter Tobin and we continue to receive excellent responses from the public, which are allowing us to piece together the complex life of this serial killer who travelled the UK using a variety of aliases and vehicles."

At Marine Parade, the specialist engineers continued using their radar equipment.

A police spokeswoman said there were no plans to start digging today.

At Station Road, officers were digging more test trenches in different parts of the garden.

Two doors down, police briefly entered the house of Violet Swain, 82, saying they wanted to look in her back garden.

"They were seeing whether he could have come over the wall," she said.

Mrs Swain, who moved to the property shortly after Tobin had left, said it was a neighbourly area where people looked out for each other.

"I've got very good neighbours," she said.

Tobin worked as a caretaker at the Marine Parade property when it was the Seafront Hotel in the late 1980s. It was converted to bedsits in 1992.

Police said they want to trace the building company which carried out the conversion work.

Investigators said they would also like to speak to the previous tenants of 67 and 67a Station Road, Portslade.