The strange death of Suffolk Strangler suspect who wasn't

Man paid £10,000 compensation is found dead with friend
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The killer grinned out of the page: the man accused of murdering five women in Ipswich, snapped in happier days as a steward on a cruise liner. But the trouble with this picture of the so-called Suffolk Strangler - published at a time when readers were gripped by his crimes - was that it was not him at all. This dreadful case of mistaken identity has now ended in another tragedy, after the man wrongly identified as the nation's most notorious murder suspect was found dead.

Friends believe he may have drunk himself into the grave, after going on an alcoholic spree paid for with his compensation from the Daily Mail.

Gareth Roberts, an out-of-work waiter from North Wales, went to the shops in December and saw his own face looking back at him from the Mail, identified as that of the Ipswich suspect Steven Wright. "I felt nauseous," he said. "It's absolutely terrible."

On Tuesday the bodies of Mr Roberts and a friend were discovered at the flat they shared in Pwllheli. Police say the men were not murdered and there were no injuries to the bodies. Currently, the deaths are officially "unexplained".

A source close to the investigation said it was believed the two men had been "drinking heavily" lately, using the newspaper's money. A friend of Mr Roberts confirmed that while he did not think the "unkempt but perfectly pleasant" 48-year-old was an alcoholic, his alcohol intake had increased dramatically after a pay-out of at least £10,000.

Gareth Huw Roberts was working as a very young waiter on the QE2 cruise-ship when he joined in a group photograph on New Year's Eve in 1976. He stood behind another man, smiling, with his hands in his pockets, dapper in a bow tie and uniform. Among the other ship's stewards caught by the camera at that moment was Steve Wright. The two men were both teenagers working on the same ship, but they barely knew each other.

Thirty years later, Suffolk police arrested Wright on suspicion of murdering five women who had been working as prostitutes on the streets of Ipswich. As detectives battled against time to get enough evidence to charge Wright, some newspapers were working equally hard to find out details of his private life. The Mail got hold of the QE2 picture and cropped it intending to show just Wright, who was now working as a fork-lift truck driver. The young man whose face they in fact printed had the same kind of thin moustache as Wright wore in snaps taken with his wife. But it was actually Mr Roberts.

Now 47 and divorced, Mr Roberts had recently moved to Pwllheli. That was where his local shop-keeper picked up a copy of the Mail and told her regular: "Your picture is in the paper." Shocked, he said: "You're joking!" But it was far from funny, said Mr Roberts later. "How would you feel if you were on the front page of a newspaper?" He had to ring up his ex-wife, his son and his daughter to explain. "I've never been to Ipswich in my life."

The Daily Mail said the photograph had come from "a normally reliable news agency" but admitted "Mr Roberts has no connection to the inquiry". Its formal apology was backed up with a five-figure payment. "The money doesn't matter," said Mr Roberts at the time, but for a seasonal worker struggling to get through the winter in a holiday town it was a great help.

He was living apart from his family at a flat owned by John White, who had been his manager at a hotel in Llandudno. The other body found at the maisonette was that of Ian Stedham, 43, who had recently split up with his wife, Maureen. She said he had been a wonderful father who kept in touch with their three daughters.

Mr Stedham had worked at the Warren Holiday Park in Abersoch for 17 years, rising from gardener to parks manager, but he left 18 months ago in circumstances that his old boss said he would "rather not discuss". Parks director Stewart Beetham said: "Our main concern is for his family, especially for his daughter, who still works here. They're having a hard time."

The bodies were discovered after a neighbour contacted the police. They may have been lying inside the flat for some days. "It's a hell of a shock," said Mr White. At the Bamboo Chinese restaurant in Pwllheli, where Mr Roberts found occasional work as a waiter, a member of staff said: "It's a very sad story. He was a very nice man."

The coroner for North- West Wales, Dewi Pritchard Jones, said carbon monoxide poisoning was unlikely. Toxicology tests had been sent to laboratories and results would come through in three weeks. Until then the deaths remain a mystery.

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