Suffolk murders: man remanded in custody

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The Independent Online

Less than three weeks after the discovery of Gemma Adams's naked body led to one of the biggest murder investigations in recent history, a former QE2 steward appeared in court accused of killing the prostitute and four of her friends.

Steve Wright, 48, sat impassively yesterday in the glass-fronted dock flanked by two police officers, glancing occasionally at the mass of media crammed into Ipswich magistrates' court.

The names of all five sex workers - Ms Adams, 25; Tania Nicol, 19; Anneli Alderton, 24; Paula Clennell, 24, and Annette Nicholls, 29 - were read out in the strip-lit room as the clerk outlined the murder charges.

Tall and stocky with a receding grey hairline, Mr Wright appeared in the dark blue suit and striped tie he had requested from the police after being arrested and led from his home in just his pyjamas. He spoke only to acknowledge his name, address and date of birth.

His solicitor, Paul Osler. said: "Anybody accused of these offences is likely to be distressed by the mere fact of the accusations. Given these circumstances, he's bearing up well."

A short while earlier, Mr Wright had arrived in court under the scrutiny of a small crowd of onlookers held back by crash barriers, hidden from view in a van escorted by police cars and motorcycle outriders, their sirens ringing and lights flashing. The hearing lasted just five minutes as the prosecuting counsel, Robert Sadd, gave a brief outline of the case to the magistrates Peter West, Renu Mandal and Mark Shackell.

Mr Osler then informed the court that he was not making any application for bail on behalf of his client.

All five bodies were found near villages south of Ipswich - the town where the women worked the red light district - during a 10-day period earlier this month. Ms Adams was discovered in Belstead Brook at Hintlesham on 2 December, Ms Nicol in the same stream at Copdock six days later, Ms Alderton in woods at Nacton on 10 December and Ms Clennell, along with Ms Nicholls, in woods at Levington two days after that.

Mr Wright, who has had a number of jobs including one as a forklift truck driver, was arrested at his home in Ipswich on Tuesday morning and charged late on Thursday night.

Yesterday Mr West, the chairman of the bench, told the defendant that he was being remanded in custody to appear before Ipswich Crown Court on 2 January.

After the brief hearing he was led from court and was expected to be driven to Norwich Prison, where - his solicitor said - officers would have to decide whether he should be segregated from other inmates.

Mr Osler later revealed that his client had been interviewed for a total of eight hours over three days but did not indicate how he was likely to plead to the charges.

"The police treated him well while he was in custody. He was treated in a very civilised fashion and given proper clothing and washing facilities. He was provided with cigarettes and refreshments and food. There are no complaints from him about the police in that regard," he said.

The solicitor, from Newmarket, said his client was aware of the extensive publicity surrounding his arrest, adding: "It is vital that everyone understands that someone is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. While I can understand the interest in the case, the excitement needs to be restrained. It is going to be a while before the facts come to court. Inevitably, in the long term there will be a serious Crown Court case - one of the most serious in UK criminal history."

* Tom Stephens, 37, who was arrested on Monday night at his home in Trimley St Martin, was released on police bail without charge pending further inquiries.