£700,000 payout for man cleared of Nickell killing

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The Independent Online

Colin Stagg, the man cleared of the murder of Rachel Nickell on Wimbledon Common 14 years ago, has been awarded £706,000 in compensation for his wrongful arrest and prosecution.

Ms Nickell, 23, who had previously worked as a model, was attacked and stabbed 49 times in front of her two-year-old son in July 1992. Mr Stagg was the subject of a police "honey trap" before being arrested and charged. He was due to face trial in 1994, but the judge threw out the case and accused the police of "deceptive conduct of the grossest kind". He had spent a year in prison on remand.

Yesterday Mr Stagg was awarded the huge sum by the Home Office – believed to be a record for wrongful arrest compensation.

Clutching the letter detailing his award, Mr Stagg said: "I have endured that stigma for 15 years. It's fair to say it has ruined my life, yet until now I have never received the slightest apology from the authorities for my ordeal. I admit I got a bit emotional. It means so much to me.

"A lot of wild figures had been bandied about, but what I wanted more than money was for people to realise they got it wrong. I thought the Establishment would just make a token payment, but this is like winning the Lottery. What pleases me even more than the money is that this is effectively a public apology."

His lawyer, Alex Tribick, said Mr Stagg would now consider launching a compensation claim against the Metropolitan Police.

"Naturally Colin is relieved and it will go some way to compensating him for the vilification that he has received at the hands of the public and media for the last 16 years," he said.

"It will allow him to try and rebuild his life and to have some sort of normal existence. But, of course, what he really wanted was an apology from the Metropolitan Police and I think he has accepted that that is something he will never get."

A Home Office spokesman said it would not comment on the case other than to say the compensation agreement was "a confidential agreement between the Government and Colin Stagg".

Mr Stagg was the police's main and, for 14 years, their only suspect in the investigation into the murder of Ms Nickell, who was murdered as she walked her dog, Molly, on Wimbledon Common on 15 July 1992.

As well as being stabbed 49 times, Ms Nickell was sexually assaulted and had her throat slit. She was found with her toddler son, Alex, clinging to her pleading: "Get up, mummy."

Mr Stagg was a local loner who had painted the walls of his flat black and owned a sheath knife, books on the occult and pictures of naked women. Police were convinced he was the killer but, with no evidence and a growing media frenzy, officers used a honey-trap operation to try to get Mr Stagg to confess. A female undercover officer, using the false name "Lizzie James", contacted Mr Stagg and sent him letters encouraging him to fantasise about sex and violence.

Crucially, he never admitted to killing Ms Nickell, yet he was charged with her murder in 1994. The case collapsed in court. A jury was never sworn in and the judge, Mr Justice Ognall, criticised the tactics used by the police.

Yesterday that criticism continued. Lord Brennan QC, who granted the compensation award, said the police tactics were "highly unusual and legally bizarre". He added that they had contributed directly to the size of the payout.

He concluded: "I am quite satisfied that this amounts to misconduct in the investigation and prosecution of this case and I categorise it egregious."

Despite being cleared in 1994, there were continual suggestions that Mr Stagg was the killer. That was until Robber Napper was arrested and charged with her murder in 2006. He will go on trial on 11 November.

Mr Tribick added: "Colin is realistic enough to realise that name... will always be synonymous with the tragic events of Rachel Nickell's death.In some people's eyes he will always be the bloke who got away with murder."