INSIDE 25 CROMWELL STREET: The `genial neighbour' at No 25

`He was a kind man and he thought the world of his kids' He is assured of a place in Britain's top league table of mass killers

Life in Cromwell Street for some of Fred West's children was a nightmare. They were sexually abused by their father and yet to the outside world he presented the face of a genial, caring family man.

Even today some of the neighbours who live near 25 Cromwell Street, the Wests' home in Gloucester, find it difficult to believe that he was such a monster to his children.

Charlie Keen, who lives at 21 Cromwell St, said: "I've been here 32 years. Fred has been here for 21 years. I've known him ever since he's been here. If you asked anybody in the street you couldn't wish for a better fellow. He's quiet. He'd do any jobs for anybody.

"Fred was very quiet spoken, he never raised his voice, never got in a temper. He was a kind man. He thought the world of his kids ... I think the children were happy, they all sounded very jolly."

Michael Newman, 50, became friendly with the alleged mass-killer when they were at a mobile home park in Bishop's Cleeve, Gloucestershire 26 years ago. "I recall him as very hardworking," Mr Newman said. "We used to call him the man who couldn't stop working."

Staff at a Wiltshire printing firm where West spent several days doing building work described him as a "totally ordinary guy" who anyone would love to have as a neighbour. Cliff Dyer, 32, a salesman at the factory in Swindon, said: "You would have invited him into your home with open arms. He was so nice."

The truth was very different. Fred had an enormous stock of pornography in the house and a penchant for watching hard-core sex films, some of them violent.

Fred once talked about his children to a friend. He said: "I have made them, I can do what I like with them."

The atmosphere inside Cromwell Street was described as eerie. The children were immaculately turned out and well-mannered, but subdued. In contrast to the image that was presented outside, they never laughed.

Yet, despite the horrors that were being perpetrated, the family slipped through the social services net. Ironically, Fred went to social services after his first wife Catherine disappeared and put his daughters Heather and Charmaine into voluntary care temporarily. A social services spokeswoman said: "Because as we understood it his marriage was breaking up they were only with us for a short time, then they were taken back by Mr West and we didn't know anything of the family from that time on."

When Rose moved in with him he got the two girls back and after that no checks were made.

Yet there was evidence of Fred's sexual habits. He had a string of minor convictions, mostly for theft, deception and motoring offences, and had served one short jail term in the early 1970s.

But in January 1973 West was involved in a case which gave a hint of the true Frederick West. He was fined £25 at Gloucester City magistrates court for stripping, tying up, gagging and sexually assaulting a 17-year-old girl. West, then 31, pleaded guiltyto assaulting the girl causing her actual bodily harm and indecently assaulting her.

The incident began in the back of his car as he drove from Gloucester to Cinderford and ended several hours later at his home in Cromwell Street. The girl had lived at the house for a month in 1972, but used to return after she left. On 6 December 1972, Fred met her one night saying he would take her to the Gloucestershire village of Cinderford. But near Mitcheldean the car turned into a dark lane. She was undressed and West put some tape over her mouth.

Fred drove back to Gloucester, where he took the girl to his bedroom and produced a knife. The terrified girl thought he was going to kill her. She was given a cup of tea before having her hands tied behind her back and her mouth gagged with cotton wool.She was then indecently assaulted.

Early the following morning, after allowing her to have a bath, West tied her up and indecently assaulted her again.

It was 20 years before the authorities became worried about West again. In 1993, he was charged with raping and buggering a young girl the previous year.

However, the case was dropped before a jury was sworn in after the prosecution said that two important witnesses had refused to give evidence. Peter Thomas, for the prosecution, told the court: "Without that evidence there is no case." However, DetectiveConstable Hazel Savage, a veteran Gloucestershire police officer in her late 40s, who had been dealing with the case, was suspicious and continued to make inquiries.

She eventually discovered that Heather West had disappeared and might be buried in the back garden.

The inquiry began and the chain of events which led to West hanging himself in his prison cell had begun.

Police sources say that they were initially only looking for Heather, who had disappeared in 1987 aged 16. But when they decided to excavate the garden, in the words of one senior officer "the search concentrated Fred's mind" and he began to co-operate.

In the weeks that followed nine bodies were discovered in the garden, under the patio and inside 25 Cromwell Street, one in his former home at 25 Midland Road and two near his childhood home in Much Marcle.

Fred West, builder, DIY enthusiast, and apparently genial family man, was assured of a place in Britain's top league table of mass killers.

n Staff at a Wiltshire printing firm where West spent several days doing building work described him as a "totally ordinary guy" who anyone would love to have as a neighbour. Cliff Dyer, 32, a salesman at the factory in Swindon, said: "You would have invited him into your home with open arms. He was so nice."

Michael Newman, 50, became friendly with the alleged mass-killer when they were at a mobile home park in Bishop's Cleeve, Gloucestershire 26 years ago. "I recall him as very hardworking," Mr Newman said. "We used to call him the man who couldn't stop working."

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