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."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

£34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

Developer - WinForms, C#

£280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform