Wests 'had secret pact to let Fred take all the blame'

Drama as witness collapses after telling of deal
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The Independent Online
WILL BENNETT

Rosemary and Fred West made a pact that he would take the blame for the Cromwell Street killings, a witness told Winchester Crown Court yesterday before collapsing.

Janet Leach, who suffered a stroke last year and who was visibly distressed as she gave evidence, was taken to hospital when she became unable to speak or move during the lunch break. The case was adjourned until today when the court will be told whether Mrs Leach, who became a confidant of Mr West after his arrest last year, is fit to resume giving evidence.

The court was also read a note yesterday from Fred West to his wife discovered in his prison cell after he was found hanged on New Year's Day.

Mrs Leach, 39, was being cross examined by Richard Ferguson QC, for the defence, when the court broke. When the jury returned the judge told them of her collapse. A spokesman for the Royal Hampshire County hospital, Winchester, later described her condition as "satisfactory".

Mrs West, 41, denies murdering 10 girls and young women whose remains were found at the Wests' house, 25 Cromwell Street, Gloucester, and at their previous home in the city. Mr West was charged with 12 murders.

Yesterday Mrs Leach, a mother of five, told the court how she had sat in on scores of police interviews with Mr West last year as an "appropriate adult". This is a system designed to provide an impartial witness and is commonly used when children are being questioned.

Mrs Leach spent much time talking to Mr West when police were not present and he told her a different story to that which he told detectives. "What he was saying in the interviews was not totally true, he was protecting Rosemary," said Mrs Leach, who was called by the prosecution to rebut taped interviews played to the court on Friday in which Mr West said that his wife was not involved in the murders.

"He just said that when he was arrested he wanted to know whether Rosemary had been let out because that was important to him because they had made a pact that he would take the blame for everything.

"If he was going to go into an interview and was going to talk a lot of nonsense he would tell me," said Mrs Leach.

She said he first told her about the pact a few days after his arrest. "Some of the things he said in the interviews he would change ... but he said that he and Rosemary had made a pact and that Rosemary would never say anything."

Brian Leveson QC, for the prosecution, asked: "At any stage did he ask whether Rosemary was out [of custody]?"

Mrs Leach replied: "Yes. That was after about three or four days ... When she was released he just said the plan was working."

Asked about Mr West's reaction when his wife was re-arrested, Mrs Leach replied: "He was upset and just said that the police were getting too close and that they would find out that Rosemary was involved."

Mrs Leach wept as she told the court she had been "devastated" by what he told her. She became ill after sitting in on interviews for three months. She said she had not told police at the time because she regarded her conversations with Mr West as confidential and he said he would tell the truth at his trial.

Mrs Leach kept in touch with Mr West and said she was "really angry" when he died because this left her to carry the burden of what he had told her. She sought legal advice and then went to the police.

Earlier Dr James McMasters, a medical officer at Winson Green prison, Birmingham, where Fred West was found hanged, said Mr West had told him he had lied to protect his wife, who had enjoyed cruelty.

Dr McMasters said he went to see Mr West in August last year because he was upset after a row with his solicitor. "He claimed he had been telling lies to the police," said Dr McMasters. "He said he felt his wife was responsible for restraining his daughters while they were raped ... He said his wife was running a brothel from his house. He claimed that he was protecting her and was prepared to go to jail for life. He said that in the past his wife had tried to murder him by trying to stab him with a knife.

"He also claimed that his wife Rosemary enjoyed cruelty ... He blamed his wife for sexually abusing the children and for using them for prostitution."

The court was read two notes found in Mr West's cell. One said: "Well Rose it's your birthday on 29 November 1994 and you will be 41 and still beautiful and still lovely and I love you.

"We will always be in love. The most wonderful thing in my life is [sic] when I met you. Our love was special to us so love keep your promises to me you know what they are. When we are put together it's up to you where.

"Lay Heather [their daughter who they were both charged with murdering] by us, we loved Heather."

The note concluded: "When you are ready come to me and I will be ready for you." Mr West then drew a gravestone with the epitaph: "Where no shadow falls in perfect peace."

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