The murder nobody wants to help solve

It was a brutal crime that police expected to crack quickly. But they hadn't accounted for the victim's murky past
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The Independent Online

It was a winter's evening in December when Andrew Cunningham was disturbed by a knock at the door of his caravan in south London. The 52-year-old let whoever was calling into his home – and his hospitality cost him his life. He was stabbed to death, suffering wounds in the chest, the throat and the back of the head. It was the sort of ferocious, unprovoked attack that would normally prompt public outrage.

Except Andrew Cunningham was a convicted paedophile, jailed in 2001 for having sex with a 15-year-old girl. It was a fact not lost on whoever killed him – as he lay dying the murder weapon was used to mutilate his genitals.

Mr Cunningham's past conviction has hindered the investigation into his death; people do not particularly want to help the police catch the killer of a paedophile. Six months on, no one has been charged with his murder. Only two arrests have been made, at the very beginning of the inquiry, and both people were quickly ruled out as suspects.

More than 500 people have made witness statements but, despite the murder taking place yards from a busy pub on a night when Champions League football was showing, and a short distance from Wimbledon greyhound track on the night of a meet, all claim to know or have seen nothing.

The officer in charge of the investigation, Detective Chief Inspector Nick Scola, believes he has probably already questioned or spoken to whoever killed Mr Cunningham, but does not yet have the evidence to charge anyone.

He accepts the suggestion that some people are unlikely to strain themselves in order to help achieve justice for a convicted sex offender, but says that those with that mindset are in the minority.

"There may be people who know something but are refusing to tell us, and are using Mr Cunningham's background, the paedophile tag, to justify it to themselves," he said. "But we have taken 504 witness statements so it is not as if we are seeing widespread refusal to co-operate. It is simply that those who have given statements genuinely don't appear to know much about what happened."

But he is uncomfortable with the suggestion that it is only he and his officers who care about this case being solved.

He added: "I think most people still recognise the difference between right and wrong and, even in a situation like this, recognise that taking someone's life is wrong, regardless of that person's background. I would also remind people that there is a killer still out there and a killer is a killer no matter which way you look at it. Next time he might not be so discriminatory when choosing a victim."

Mr Cunningham was found dead at 7am on 10 December in his caravan outside the haulage yard where he worked in Earlsfield, south London. He was discovered by his boss who had last seen him at 6pm the previous evening. No forensic evidence or a murder weapon have been discovered.

Initial newspaper reports claimed he had been set upon by an angry mob who were chanting "die, paedo, die". The mob, it was claimed, banded together after locals in a nearby pub discovered that Mr Cunningham had sexually abused a two-year-old girl.

But Det Ch Insp Scola says this theory is "nonsense". He added: "There is no two-year-old girl. This was a rumour that we do not believe was true.

"As for the mob theory, we have looked at various CCTV images and there is no evidence of a mob being in the area. Certainly, if there was they all left individually. There were no burning torches or anything like that."

There was no sign of forced entry at Mr Cunningham's caravan, leading Det Ch Insp Scola to surmise that Mr Cunningham was comfortable inviting the caller inside. The lack of evidence of a struggle in the caravan suggests that the victim was taken by surprise.

And while the paedophile motive is the police's strongest line of inquiry, it is also possible that the murder was over money – £6,000 in cash was stolen from the caravan.

Det Ch Insp Scola added: "Other lines of inquiry can't be ruled out. He had never been attacked before and there was no evidence of a hate campaign against him, no anti-Andrew Cunningham graffiti or anything like that. And perhaps the wounds to his genitals were a way of putting us off, making us believe this was all about his previous convictions."

What is inescapable is that such a murder would have undoubtedly provoked a bigger impact in reaction in the local area if he had not had a previous conviction for child sex.

Locals at the Corner Pin pub, just 50 yards from where Mr Cunningham was killed, are reminded of his death by posters appealing for information. Not even the lure of a £20,000 police reward has prompted any of them, should they know anything, to reveal it to the authorities.

At the time of his death one drinker in the pub said: "Nonce. He was a nonce. Everybody around here knew it. I suppose there were some who felt he had it coming." This week no one in the bar was prepared to comment on the investigation. One man said: "I knew him, but I don't want to talk about him. I've had enough of that with the police."

Others claimed never to have seen or met Mr Cunningham, despite it being well known that he used to drink there. He stopped going to the pub after an argument, apparently over the allegation that he had "chatted-up" a teenage girl.

His former boss at the haulage yard, who didn't want to be named, said: "After that he never went back there and I had people tell me I shouldn't employ him. But he was a good worker and a nice bloke. It is a shame the police have not been able to solve the murder yet."

Mr Cunningham's ex-employer seems to be the only person outside of the Metropolitan Police distressed by the fact no one has been caught. With the exception of a sister, his family have largely not kept in touch with officers conducting the investigation.

After the murder, his ex-wife told a red-top newspaper: "He had what was coming to him. No one should feel sorry for him." His daughter said: "I want to spit on his grave."

The lone bunch of flowers placed at the murder scene were later taken away by the man who had laid them there. He said at the time: "When I found out he was a paedophile I thought: 'I'm not going to leave flowers for someone like that.'"

Regardless of public apathy, Det Ch Insp Scola and his team continue to plough ahead with their inquiries. "It has been a frustrating case," he said, "but so are all unsolved murders. I'm convinced that we just need that one key fact or piece of evidence or one lucky break. And I believe you make your own luck, so if we carry on working this hard we will solve this case."