West charged with five more murders: Hunt for bodies could switch to field near childhood home

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The Independent Online
POLICE believe there are bodies buried in a field less than half a mile from Frederick West's childhood home, it emerged yesterday.

Mr West, a 52-year-old builder, was charged yesterday with five counts of murdering unknown females between 1 January 1972 and 27 February 1994. He is due to appear before Gloucester magistrates again today. He already faces three charges of murdering his daughter Heather, 16, his pregnant lodger Shirley Ann Robinson, 18, and a woman in her twenties.

Senior police officers refused to comment on speculation that Mr West's first wife, Catherine Costello, and their daughter, Charmaine, could be the victims who are thought to be hidden in the cornfield 17 miles from Gloucester. Neither has been seen for more than 20 years, despite appeals for them to come forward.

Police are analysing data gathered on Wednesday by a radar scanner during a two-hour search of the field outside the village of Much Marcle, on the Gloucestershire border with Hereford and Worcester. The equipment, which detects disturbances below ground, has helped to pinpoint most of the nine victims found in Mr West's home at Cromwell Street, Gloucester, since the search for bodies began 16 days ago.

Reg Watkins, 38, the farmer who owns the field, said: 'The police told me that they believe there are bodies there. They didn't say how many. But I am told it is 99 per cent certain. It doesn't worry me a lot. It's one of those things.'

He has been told to stop work on the field, which is likely to be excavated next week. The ground-penetrating radar is also expected to be used on the first and second floors of the Cromwell Street house, which have yet to be subjected to an inch-by-inch search.

But Detective Superintendent John Bennett, who is leading the murder inquiry, warned that the speed of the search had had to slow down because the excavations were undermining the house, and because of the 'continual finds'. He said: 'Despite extensive excavations, there is still a large area of the cellar to be explored. There is also the ground-floor extension and further areas in the bathroom. This is expected to take several days.'

Up to three other victims are thought to be hidden in the house, which was extensively renovated by Mr West in the 22 years that he lived there. Of the nine sets of human remains found so far, three were buried in the garden, five in the cellar and a sixth under the ground-floor bathroom.

Police are also checking information given to them by Vincent Oakes, a pensioner from Gloucester, who remembered seeing Mr West with Mary Bastholm, the 15- year-old waitress who went missing in the city in 1968, shortly before she vanished.

Mr Oakes said yesterday that at the time of her disappearance he told police he had seen her chatting to a man in a sand-coloured saloon on four or five occasions. He had thought it was odd because the car was parked a couple of streets away from Rosebery Avenue, where the pensioner and Mary lived, and he did not think her mother would approve. But he only recognised the man this week.

He added: 'When I first saw pictures of West they were recent photographs and I thought nothing of it. But some days later the papers published an earlier photograph of him with one of Mary on the same page and I instantly put two and two together. When I saw them they were chatting quite innocently in the car but I remember thinking it was surprising because Mary was such a shy, thin, reserved girl and the chap was bulky and heavy-featured.'