Stabbing haunts the 'safe' beauty spot

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The Independent Online
A SUDDEN burst of fine weather left Wimbledon Common bathed in sunshine. On any other day, the sprawling south-west London common would have been packed with strollers, cyclists and joggers. Yesterday, most of them stayed away, traumatised by a murder on their own doorstep.

The copse where Rachel Nickell was stabbed to death on Wednesday was sealed off by the Metropolitan Police, which conducted an intensive search of the undergrowth. Police helicopters whirred overhead.

'The place is usually much more crowded,' Caroline Evans, out walking her three dogs, said. 'It seems as if a lot of people have been scared off. It's such a shocking thing to have happened in a beautiful spot like this.

'I never like to come up here on my own. You're in the middle of London and there are lots of people around, but it's so big that you can walk for miles and not see another soul. The rangers patrol, but they can't be everywhere at once.'

Kim Baker, 31, visits the common every day to see her sister at a cafe at the Windmill, a popular landmark about 500 yards from the woods. Yesterday, she asked her friend, Alison Downes, to go with her.

'I was terrified last night; I couldn't sleep at all,' she said. 'I walk through that particular spot every day. To think that I passed there at 9.30 yesterday morning; it could have been me.'

Both women have two-year-old children. 'It's the sick image of that baby hanging on to his dead mother that haunts me,' Mrs Downes, gripping her own child's hand, said.

Four posies had been laid at the foot of an oak tree near the murder scene yesterday.

The owner of the Windmill cafe, Mark Roberts, said that he saw Miss Nickell regularly. 'She was an extremely attractive, striking lady,' he said. 'I know the common as a safe place, but there's a horrible atmosphere here now. It's a wound which will take a long time to heal.'

Rachel Nickell, a part-time model, whose body was discovered on Wimbledon Common on Wednesday after she had been killed in what police believe was a sex attack. Her body was identified yesterday by Andre Hanscombe, who lived with her in Balham, south-west London, and is the father of their two-year-old son Alexander, who was found clinging to his mother's body. An intensive search for the murder weapon, thought to be a sheath knife, was carried out yesterday by police using metal detectors.

(Photographs omitted)