Richard Ingrams’s Week: We will never know the truth about the A6 killer

Share
Related Topics

The name Peter Alphon will mean nothing to today's generation. But because I was a close friend of Paul Foot, who spent years investigating the A6 murder of 1961, for which James Hanratty was later hanged, I lived with the name Alphon almost as closely as he did.

The A6 killer – apparently proved to be Hanratty by recent DNA tests – murdered Michael Gregsten and raped and attempted to murder his girlfriend Valerie Storie, after holding them up with a gun in their car in a field near Taplow.

Alphon was the police's first suspect and he bore a marked resemblance to the original identikit picture produced with the help of Valerie Storie. But it was Hanratty, a small-time crook who had prison sentences for house-breaking and stealing cars, who was later charged and eventually hanged.

The case would have been forgotten had it not been for Alphon's subsequent behaviour, all of which suggested a man suffering acute feelings of guilt. In phone conversations with Paul and other campaigners he spoke obsessively about the case, frequently incriminating himself. In 1967 he called a press conference and announced that he was the murderer. Previously he had even visited Hanratty's parents and offered to compensate them for the loss of their son.

Aside from the details of the evidence was the obvious point that the murderer had been an excitable and unbalanced man, unable to control his sexual urges. The description fitted Alphon but not Hanratty.

The DNA tests of 2002 were generally accepted as proof of Hanratty's guilt. But Paul Foot continued to believe in Hanratty's alibi which he had personally checked out. Any hope that Alphon might finally reveal the truth has now gone. He died in a London hospital last month, following a fall at his home.

There is no need to apologise

Personally I blame Denis. Carol Thatcher, his daughter and biographer, was, I am sure, used to words like golliwog, pansies and pinkoes being banded about over breakfast. But Denis, who wisely lived by the maxim that "whales only get shot when they spout" was careful not to give vent to his feelings in public, and as a result came to be regarded as a bit of a national treasure.

But Carol earns her living as a spouter, and not surprisingly has now run into trouble with the BBC, an organisation which Denis was convinced was in the hands of Trotskyites and other left-wing subversives. In this he was mistaken. But what nobody can deny is that the BBC of today is run by assorted non-entities with little contact with the real world. The latest to emerge blinking into the spotlight is a Ms Jay Hunt, the head of BBC1. It is she who has sacked Carol for referring to a tennis player as a golliwog and refusing to apologise.

This business of apologising has become a vexed issue – not surprising when Tony Blair can, with a straight face, issue an apology for the Irish potato famine. To whom is Carol expected to apologise? Did someone who overheard the remark complain and, if so, who? Should she apologise to the unnamed (by the BBC) tennis player? The black community? Or is the nation at large entitled to an apology to be made on peak-time TV? Carol should stick to her guns and say nothing. If anyone should apologise it is Ms Jay Hunt for once again showing that the BBC has become a laughing stock.

Only the Triffids were missing ...

As it happens, I have been rereading John Wyndham's sci-fi classic The Day of the Triffids. It begins, you may remember, with the hero waking up in the morning in a London hospital and being struck by the total silence. When he ventures out into the streets, they are empty of people and traffic.

I had much the same kind of experience in London on Monday. For the first time in my life no buses were running. Many shops, restaurants and offices were closed. Even my NatWest bank had shut its doors. What's more, they were to remain shut the following morning. It was tempting for old fogeys like myself with memories of the winter of 1962-3 to conclude that the British nation had gone soft. Either that or it had succumbed to the hysteria of the health and safety brigade.

From my personal experience, a lot of it had to do with the difficulty of acquiring information. Nowadays we are led to believe that all kinds of information is instantly available thanks to all our wonderful new technologies. But it isn't.

In the event of a major snowfall I would, in the past, have rung up my local railway station to find out the situation. But you can't do that any more. Ring the train company and you will probably find yourself talking to someone in India.

Go online, you will say. But so many callers tried to do this on Monday that the whole system crashed. And in the meantime, the BBC, which seemed to be no better informed than the rest of us, kept quoting traffic controllers telling us not to travel unless our journey was absolutely vital. It's not surprising that so many decided not to risk it.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Senior Research Fellow in Gender, Food and Resilient Communities

£47,334 - £59,058 per annum: Coventry University: The Centre for Agroecology, ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Taking on Ukip requires a delicate balancing act for both main parties

Andrew Grice
Today is a bigger Shabbes than usual in the Jewish world because it has been chosen to launch the Shabbos Project  

Shabbes exerts a pull on all Jews, and today is bigger than ever

Howard Jacobson
Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker