Police and DPP defend Nickell prosecution: Covert mission 'sought intelligence'

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The Independent Online
SCOTLAND YARD and the Director of Public Prosecutions made a public display of unity and defiance yesterday in the face of a barrage of criticism over their collapsed prosecution of a man for the murder of Rachel Nickell.

And in a second development yesterday, it was revealed that Ms Nickell's son, Alex, five, has been offered only pounds 750 by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board for the trauma of seeing his mother stabbed 49 times on Wimbledon Common when he was only two years old.

The dead woman's father, Andrew Nickell, told GMTV: 'It's impossible to replace a mother but a preliminary offer from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board for the loss of Alex's mother, for the loss of Rachel, for the 15 years of his life from 3 to 18 is pounds 22,000 - that's 17p an hour - and that's the value they place on her life, for all the services a mother would have given over all those 15 years.'

The man the police charged with the crime, Colin Stagg, 31, is hoping to claim a six-figure sum in compensation for being jailed for 13 months awaiting trial. His case was thrown out on Wednesday by Mr Justice Ognall, who found that a police undercover operation to incriminate the suspect was 'misconceived'.

Sir Paul Condon, Commission of the Metropolitan Police, who had returned to Britain to face the storm on Thursday night after eight days abroad, and Barbara Mills, the Director of Public Prosecutions, held a joint press conference yesterday. They both referred to evidence that Mr Stagg had been seen on the Common walking towards the scene at the time of the murder, and that he had said he was not there, as important evidence to back up the undercover trap. They pointed out that a magistrate had committed the case for trial after hearing evidence over 11 days.

The commissioner contradicted the explanation of the undercover operation given to the court by the prosecution counsel, who said it was designed to assemble a psychological profile which would identify him as the killer. A policewoman had posed as his girlfriend for seven months and encouraged him to exchange increasingly lurid and violent fantasies with her. The barrister told the court a psychologist was in control of the exercise, and it would have been the first time a psychological profile had been used in court to identify a criminal.

But Sir Paul said yesterday: 'It was in essence an intelligence-gathering operation in which an undercover police officer acted professionally and intelligently, seeking to gain intelligence about this case. Our ambition was that it would lead to very detailed forensic evidence, for example the murder weapon and so on. That ambition was never fulfilled.' He also said if any important evidence had emerged from the operation, it might have led to official police interviews using proper procedures.

He did not feel the police should apologise to Mr Stagg.