Soldier wanted over student's killing had faced kidnap charge

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The Independent Online

The soldier believed to have murdered a student in Cambridge before committing suicide had previously been convicted of imprisoning an 18-year-old woman, it was revealed yesterday.

Lance Corporal David Atkinson, 31, is thought to have abducted Sally Geeson, 22, in Cambridge city centre in the early hours of New Year's Day and later asphyxiated her.

The soldier apparently set fire to himself and jumped to his death from a hotel hours after the woman's body was discovered in woodland near Cambridge on Friday.

Details of his violent past emerged yesterday as the Army revealed they had tipped off the police three days after Ms Geeson went missing.

In 1998, the soldier, who was a private in the Royal Engineers based in Germany, was found guilty of falsely imprisoning an 18-year-old Polish woman in an incident that happened the previous year. He was found not guilty of kidnapping and assaulting her.

He served eight months in a military prison in Colchester and was fined £1,000. He was allowed to return to his unit after serving the sentence.

In 1996 and 1997, his wife at the time reported her husband to the Royal Military Police claiming he had assaulted her, but those allegations were later withdrawn. The couple, who had a child, later divorced.

Sue Geeson, the Cambridge student's mother, criticised the Army last night for allowing Atkinson to continuing serving after his court martial.

The soldier, who was based at Waterbeach Barracks, near Cambridge, at the time Ms Geeson disappeared, came under investigation by the Army after he failed to return from leave on 4 January. There had been a fire in his room on New Year's Eve.

When officers from the Army's special investigation's branch discovered his violent history they contacted Cambridgeshire Police on 4 January and warned that he could be a murder suspect.

But, before he could be arrested, he appears to have fled to his hometown of Glasgow and killed himself. He died in the early hours of Saturday morning after apparently setting fire to himself and jumping from the seventh floor of a hotel in the centre of the city.

Ms Geeson, who had been celebrating New Year with friends before they got split up, sent fellow students text message saying she had got a lift from "someone" and minutes later one saying "help me".

Her naked body was found six days later in woodland just outside Cambridge.

Sue Geeson described the information about the soldier's past as "very disturbing".

She said: "We weren't aware of this. It's certainly concerning. Questions will have to be asked as to why he was still in the Army. Especially at a barracks so near to a town like Cambridge. It's very disturbing."

In Glasgow, a neighbour of Atkinson's family described the soldier as an "ordinary boy" who was "never in any trouble".

According to the neighbour the murder suspect, who had earned a black belt in karate at the age of 13, had always wanted to join the Army, beginning his a career as a member of the local cadet force.

She said: "He was never in any trouble when I knew him. When we saw the name in the paper we thought it couldn't be the same lad. His mother, Lizzie, is a very quiet lady. She will be needing all the friends she can get."

Atkinsonn joined the army in 1992 and served initially with the Royal Engineers, working in the postal and courier service.

He then worked for the Royal Logistic Corps between April 1994 and April 1997. He was then promoted to the rank of lance corporal and returned to the Royal Engineers.

At the semi-detached terraced family home in home in the Greenhills area of East Kilbride, near Glasgow, where his mother lives, there was no response yesterday.

Atkinson's unemployed father, also named David, lives just a few miles away in a three-storey block of flats, after divorcing his wife in 2002.

Police and forensic scientists examined the suspect's room at Waterbeach Barracks for clues yesterday. Detectives are examining forensic material taken from the body and clothes of Ms Geeson to check for links with the soldier. Police are also investigating reports that there may have been previous instances in Cambridge in which he picked up women and assaulted them.