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Ipswich murders: accused tells of troubled life

The forklift truck driver accused of murdering five prostitutes said yesterday that he had been paying for sex since working on the QE2 cruise liner 25 years ago. He added that he regretted "deceiving" his partner by once more starting to pick up vice girls shortly before the bodies of his alleged victims were found.

Steve Wright, who refused to answer all police questions when he was arrested in connection with the killings in December 2006, entered the witness box to tell jurors of his history of failed marriages, bankruptcy and a fractured childhood.

Mr Wright, 49, told Ipswich Crown Court that he had been using prostitutes since joining the merchant navy in his early 20s and that it was "quite normal" for crew on the QE2, where he worked as a steward for six years, to pay for sex. He told the court he had visited massage parlours in Britain and abroad.

But he insisted he had not picked up prostitutes in the Suffolk town until two and a half weeks after moving into a flat in the heart of the red-light district with his partner, Pam Wright, in October 2006. It was two weeks after this that the first of the women Mr Wright is accused of killing, 19-year-old Tania Nicol, went missing. He admitted it was "possible" that Ms Nicol had been in his car the night she went missing, but denies having anything to do with her death.

Mr Wright, who is expected to spend three days giving his testimony, denies murdering Ms Nicol, Gemma Adams, 25, Anneli Anderton, 24, Paula Clennell, 24, and Annette Nicholls, 29. The bodies of all five women, who worked on the streets of Ipswich, were found in isolated locations near the town over a 10-day period in December 2006.

The defendant, who remained seated in the dock after telling jurors that he felt faint at times of stress, said he began picking up women when his partner was working at night at a call centre.

The jury was told he would take the women to "any secluded area or an industrial estate" to have sex. Asked how he felt about his activities, Mr Wright said: "If [Pam] found out she would probably have left me. I didn't feel good about myself obviously. It is a situation I got myself in." The former QE2 steward said he and his partner had met in 2000 while they were both working in a bingo hall in Felixstowe. Their relationship dwindled and their sex life had petered out by early in 2006, the court heard. The defendant said: "When she started on the night shift and I was working the day shift we were like two ships passing in the night. We never really had any time together."

The jury trying the case, now in its fourth week, has previously heard how Wright only gave the answer of "no comment" during eight hours of interviews with detectives after he was arrested.

Prosecutors say fibres from his Ford Mondeo car, his tracksuit and other possessions were found on the bodies of the five women and could only been placed there shortly before their deaths. Mr Wright, who told the court that he was "proud" of his car and in the habit of cleaning it "vigorously", said his parents had divorced when he was a child and he was bought up separately by his mother, grandparents and his father, an RAF policeman. As a result he went to school in Malta and Singapore while his father was serving abroad.

The defendant said he left school at the age of 16 without any qualifications and joined the merchant navy. He began the first of two marriages shortly afterwards. It lasted for about eight years, until his wife formed another relationship. After being made redundant from the QE2, he began working in the pub trade, managing premises in the South-east and East Anglia while landlords were on holiday. He also remarried but at the same time entered into a year-long affair with a woman in London.

The court heard that by the late 1990s, Mr Wright found himself mired in debt incurred by gambling on horses. He said: "Because of the jobs I had, I wasn't paid very much. My father suggested I made myself bankrupt to get rid of the debt."

In 2003, Mr Wright admitted stealing £80 from a bar where he was working and it was a DNA sample taken in connection with that conviction which led to police matching samples taken from the dead women.

The case continues.