THE EARLY DAYS: Idyllic village childhood hid a darker side

`Fred was a bit cheeky, but that was the way these kids were'

Outwardly Fred West had an idyllic childhood in the picturesque Herefordshire village of Much Marcle, but there was a dark side to his nature which was occasionally glimpsed.

He and his brothers and sisters went hop-picking with their parents, enjoyed tobogganing when winter snow came and helped out on the farm where their father worked.

Fred was a cheerful youngster, happy-go-lucky and rather cheeky, and he could inspire real affection. Even after he was charged with the murders, Edna Hill, his aunt, said: "Fred has always been a nice boy."

Yet he sexually assaulted a girl who rejected his advances at a dance and he once, apparently deliberately, rode his motorcycle at another young woman in the village.

He was born in the village on 29 September 1941, the son of Walter West, a farm labourer, and his wife Daisy. Fred was the eldest of six surviving children, two others having died in infancy.

They were at the bottom of the social scale in the village, which is on the Herefordshire-Gloucestershire boundary, but Walter and Daisy were regarded as decent and hard-working.

Fred grew up in a tied cottage owned by Frank Brooke, the farmer for whom Walter worked. It was crowded, having just two bedrooms until Mr Brooke added a third.

Kay Cotton, Mr Brooke's daughter, who now runs the farm with her husband, said: "He was just an ordinary little lad, nothing that would stand out in your mind. He was small with a crop of curly hair and was very like his mother to look at. He was a cheerful lad.

"He was a bit cheeky, a bit mouthy, but that was the way these kids were. I would say that he was probably naive and easily led."

Edna Hill, Daisy's sister, said: "The family always did things together and used to go hop-picking. They had everything they wanted. Daisy was one of the best mothers I have ever known. Wherever she went she always had the kids trailing along behind her.

"When Walter was working he would often take the kids with him. They always had jobs and they would go out in the fields and help their mother and their father. They used to go and pick fruit ."

Fred was his mother's favourite child among her three sons and three daughters. Ann Colburn, who went to school with him, said: "Mrs West was very protective of Fred, more than any of her children. The highlight of our summer days was to see Mrs West coming down the road in her pretty dress to sort out one of the teachers who had been giving Fred a hard time."

He was educated entirely at the village school, where he was not regarded as being particularly bright. After he left, he went to work for the Brookes alongside his father, but left after 18 months because he was not interested in farming.

He and his brother John, to whom he was close, worked on building sites around west Gloucestershire for a while and it was around this time that Fred met Catherine Costello, who became his first wife and one of his early victims.

She was from Scotland but worked as a waitress in the Milk Bar, a cafe in nearby Ledbury that was a regular haunt of Fred and other young local people. Their relationship revealed the secretive side of Fred's nature.

His brother Doug, who still lives in Much Marcle, recalled: "We didn't know Fred was getting married until afterwards. He came back and said he had got married. He didn't tell the family; only John knew about the wedding. He was the best man. When he came back and said that he had got married we thought he was joking.

"That was Fred all over. If he decided to do it he just went ahead and did it. He was a bit secretive. He would go and do things without thinking and that was that." It was the pattern of things to come for an outwardly easy-going, straightforward man who had a dark side that few people saw.

Walter and Daisy are dead and lie side by side in Much Marcle churchyard, spared the anguish of the murder case. Mrs Cotton said: "Walter was a nice old boy, he would have been horrified by this."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
News
Elton John and David Furnish exchange marriage vows
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
Billie Whitelaw was best known for her close collaboration with playwright Samuel Beckett, here performing in a Beckett Trilogy at The Riverside Studios, Hammersmith
people'Omen' star was best known for stage work with Samuel Beckett
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Wright has won The Apprentice 2014
tvThe Apprentice 2014 final
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Darrell Banks’s ‘Open The Door To Your Heart’
music
News
Detective Tam Bui works for the Toronto Police force
news
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor winner Ben Haenow has scored his first Christmas number one
music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executives - Outbound & Inbound

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'