For would you want to live in the place where West was buried? Who can blame the villagers of the otherwise unremarkable Much Marcle for opposing his burial in their churchyard, next to his parents? Much of the hostility results from the well-founded ex
p ectation that his grave, wherever it is located, will be a macabre focus in a tourist trail for a stream of people on days out. Much Marcle has already experienced an influx from the media, police and the curious since two of West's victims were buriedi n fields close by.
Let's face it, if your tastes run to it, you could make a day trip out of West's foul deeds: a motorway drive to 25 Cromwell Street, Gloucester, a stop for lunch in a country pub, then on to the village and a quick stroll around the graveyard, all with the added spice that West may have taken secrets with him and there may be more undetected victims. It is already happening.
Yet if I faced the prospect of living in close proximity to a multi-murderer's grave, I would be beset with more primitive fears than having my village trawled by tourists. West is dead, but the evil he has done so clearly lingers on. I'm not raising thespectre of ghosts, or unquiet graves, more of a desire not to be constantly reminded of something quite horrible. Who would want the remains of such a person introduced into their community, to tarnish it further?
This sense of evil by association - through the company you keep - surely bedevils Rosemary West. Only she can know whether or not she is entirely innocent. But even if she were completely blameless, could she expect to live what passes for a normal life? Of course not. She is a marked woman, whatever the outcome, because she was married to a mass murderer who bumped off one of their daughters and buried most of his victims in the family home.
If it is any comfort to Rosemary West, she is far from alone in her position. All terrible crimes taint everyone associated with them, innocent or guilty. Sonia Sutcliffe, wife of Peter, the "Yorkshire Ripper", was shunned by her neighbours. The familie
s of the "Birmingham Six" suffered grievously.
Yet the real loss caused by West's apparent suicide is that collectively, as a society, we have not been given the measured opportunity, through the structured approach of a court of law, to ponder the lesson we should learn from his long-undetected actions. To hear commentators argue that at least jurors are being spared the pain of exposure to such horrible deeds is incredible: you can't have justice without a trial, nor can it be a satisfactory outcome for relatives, who deserve to know as much as possible about how their flesh and blood died.
Contrast the West murders with last year's James Bulger case - distressing though it was for the jurors. It has certainly raised adults' awareness of the vulnerability of small children to attack by older children and further sensitised us to the impact of violent screen images on young minds. Would two large boys today be able to drag a struggling two-year-old miles through city streets in broad daylight without being more strenuously challenged? I hope not - my guard is certainly raised.
West was able to exploit ruthlessly the rootless conditions of life for many young and probably gullible women. There clearly were, and probably still are, gaps in communication between the social services, schools, the police and families reporting bewildering disappearances. If anything, since West began his activities in the Sixties, social life has become more atomised, not less.
The final point is this: what state can our prisons be in if they cannot prevent a suicide of this importance? If you or I cash a cheque or buy a rail ticket, we are on video camera; when I want to know if my baby is sleeping safely I monitor his breathing and snores through a standard alarm system. Why not prisoners? Why, in the age of closed-circuit television, do checks on prisoners remain so basic?
Experts apparently did not judge West to be a suicide risk. This is presumably because he appeared to function normally by eating meals and taking exercise. But there is a long tradition of people attempting and actually committing suicide as an entirelyrational act. You have only to think of concentration camp victims, Nazi war criminals, the last emperor of China, who viewed suicide as their only way out. West may also have pondered the fate of Jeffrey Dahmer, the convicted American mass murderer whopractised cannibalism and who was killed by another prisoner.
In these extreme circumstances, when someone is hopelessly cornered, suicide is not the outcome of an unbalanced mind, but entirely logical. It would be heartening to think that West's action arose from total anguish and self-disgust at his deeds but, alas, this seems unlikely. A churchyard grave would be too good.Reuse content