A police search at the home of Rosemary and Frederick West uncovered a scene"more terrible than words could express", Winchester Crown Court heard yesterday.
Besides the body of the Wests' daughter Heather, 16, they found the dismembered remains of eight other young women who had suffered severe sexual abuse before being murdered.
One alleged victim, 15-year-old Shirley Hubbard, had been tied up wearing a tape mask on her face, kept alive with narrow plastic tubes inserted in the nostrils, "for sexual gratification so that her living but restrained body could be used or abused at will", said Brian Leveson QC, for the prosecution, opening the case against Mrs West. "The breathing tube or tubes demonstrate that Shirley must have been alive when the mask was applied. Its purpose can only have been to keep her wholly under control, unable to see, unable to cry out, just able to breathe."
"Precisely how long, and when what you may think was the blessing of death came to her, we can't say."
Mr Leveson told the court that victims of the Wests were dragged into their cellar, gagged to prevent them screaming and then kept alive for days while they were sexually abused.
Mrs West, 41, from Gloucester, whose husband was found dead in his prison cell last New Year's Day, denies murdering 10 girls and young women whose remains were found at Cromwell Street and at their previous home in Gloucester.
Mr Leveson said: "Over a period of many years, especially between 1972 and 1979, girls who were staying at or visiting 25 Cromwell Street and others who were enticed or simply abducted and taken there were sexually abused both by Rosemary and Frederick West in the most depraved and appalling way. Those who the Wests believed would not complain, perhaps because their involvement appeared to be willing or perhaps because of their very vulnerability, lived.
"Those whom it was believed posed a threat, perhaps because of their injuries, or perhaps because they may talk to the police and report what had happened, death was the option for them."
He told the jury of eight men and four women that the police investigation had begun in 1992, five years after the Wests' eldest daughter, Heather, disappeared in 1987. On 26 February last year police found her remains under the patio at Cromwell Street.
"The police continued digging and what they found was more terrible than words can express. Over the days which followed, the skeleton remains of eight other young women were found each under the ground of 25 Cromwell Street. Each one had been dismembered, heads had been decapitated and in every set of remains bones were missing."
The remains of Charmaine West, daughter of Mr West's first wife, Rena, were found at the Wests' former home at 25 Midland Road, Gloucester. Rena West and Anne McFall, Mr West's former nanny, were found buried near his childhood home at Much Marcle in Hereford and Worcester.
Only Mr West was charged with the murder of the two women found near Much Marcle. Mrs West and her husband were charged with murdering Charmaine and with murdering Lynda Gough; Carol Cooper; Lucy Partington; Therese Siegenthaler; Shirley Hubbard; Juanita Mott; Shirley Robinson; Alison Chambers and Heather West, whose remains were found at Cromwell Street.
However, Mr Leveson told the jury: "I make it clear from the outset that there is no direct evidence of anyone - Frederick West or Rosemary West - killing any of these girls ... By the very nature of the allegations of murder within the private quarters of 25 Cromwell Street, such evidence is unlikely and although the victims, or what we find of them, tell us something of the circumstances of their deaths, they do not say who killed them. The evidence is circumstantial."
Warning the jurors that some of the evidence that they would see would be "horrific and harrowing" he said that the Wests' first victim was Charmaine. She was seven when she disappeared in 1971 while they were living at 25 Midland Road.
He said: "At the core of this case is the relationship between Frederick and Rosemary West. What each knew about each other, what they did together, what they did to others and how far each was prepared to go. Much of what follows can be explained in the context that both were obsessed with sex."
In 1972, they abducted and sexually assaulted a former nanny - Caroline Owens - bound and gagged her and took her back to Cromwell Street. There she was sexually assaulted again, but they let her go. She reported the incident to the police and the Wests were fined by Gloucester magistrates' court.
The Wests' final victim, it was alleged, was their eldest daughter, Heather, whose disappearance sparked the inquiry.
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