West told police: I killed 12

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The Independent Online
Frederick West had confessed to the murder of 12 women, including two of his daughters, but told police his wife was not involved, her solicitor claimed last night.

Rosemary West, 41, is jointly charged with her husband with murdering nine of the dozen victims most of whom were recovered from the couple's home at 25 Cromwell Street, Gloucester.

The disclosure came as the controversy continued over the security procedures that allowed West, 53, a man who if found guilty would have become one of Britain's most prolific serial killers, apparently to hang himself in his cell while awaiting trial. After a day of conflicting accounts, Derek Lewis, the head of the Prison Service, revealed last night that West had not been given high surveillance priority and was not checked every 15 minutes, despite claims by prison officers to the contrary. Earlier in the day, the Home Office had refused to discuss West's risk status.

Mr Lewis told BBC Radio 4: "Mr West was not assessed as being a suicide risk at the time of his death and therefore such precautions were not in force."

He added that the decision was taken by the local staff and the medical team at the prison and rejected suggestions of ministerial involvement.

Earlier the Government's Chief Inspector of Prisons, Judge Stephen Tumim, called for 24-hour surveillance of likely suicide victims and Labour demanded a review of how potentially dangerous inmates were supervised.

As a police investigation into West's death on Sunday at Winson Green prison, Birmingham, got under way, Judge Tumim said he had called for 24-hour observation of suicide risk prisoners in 1991, and said that West should have shared a cell. West's solicitor, Tony Miles, added: "It inevitably raises important and fundamental questions as to the safety and security of prisoners and the res-ponsibility that the Home Office must take for the Prison Service."

Before Mr's Lewis's statement, John Bartell, general secretary of the Prison Officers Association, claimed that a decision had been taken some time ago to lift the special watch - 15-minute checks - on West, that he had been placed on when he was first brought into Winson Green.

Mr Bartell added: "One would assume with a high-profile prisoner such as this that at least the minister would have been informed."

Leo Goatley, Mrs West's solicitor, yesterday maintained that the case against his client had always been "flimsy" and was now "flimsier".

He said West initially insisted he knew nothing about the murders. "But when he was confronted with the reality of what was buried at Cromwell Street, he made a truthful and candid admission and that included a statement that Rose had nothing to do with it."

Further reports, page 3

Leading article, page 13

Paul Vallely, page 14