UK

Rachel Nickell's partner seeks compensation

Andre Hanscombe
Image caption Andre Hanscombe said the murder had cast a shadow over his life

The partner of murdered Rachel Nickell has told the BBC he will take his claim for compensation from the Met Police to the European Court of Human Rights.

Andre Hanscombe has already been told by the police that they will not compensate him for failings during the 1992 murder investigation.

He said he was pursuing the case as "nobody has been held accountable".

An innocent man was charged with the murder, meanwhile the real killer murdered again before he was arrested.

On 15 July 1992, Mr Hanscombe's life was changed forever. His 23-year-old partner Rachel Nickell was murdered on Wimbledon Common in south-west London.

She had been sexually assaulted and repeatedly stabbed.

Their son Alex, then almost three years old, was found close to her body.

It would take more than a decade for DNA advances to enable the police to uncover the identity of the real murderer, Robert Napper.

Meanwhile, he went on to kill again.

An innocent man, Colin Stagg, was wrongly charged with the crime. And Mr Hanscombe, hounded by the press, took Alex to live abroad. But that brutal event on a summer's day would mark the rest of their lives.

Unresolved

"You have a choice," says Mr Hanscombe, "you can either go into denial about what happened to you or you can be very open... but it's a bit like having a congenital disease. With every new relationship you have to pick when is going to be the right moment to spill the beans.

Image caption Robert Napper convicted in 2007 of killing Rachel Nickell in 1992

"The whole unresolved aspect of the situation has cast a shadow over both our lives ever since."

Just over a year after Ms Nickell's murder, Mr Stagg was put on trial. The case collapsed within days, dismissed by the judge because it relied heavily on "honeytrap" evidence. He had spent 13 months on remand.

An undercover policewoman had posed as a potential girlfriend and encouraged him to share violent fantasies. But Mr Stagg never confessed to the murder.

Nevertheless the police announced that they were not looking for anyone else. Mr Hanscombe played his part in keeping the spotlight on Mr Stagg, writing a book that pointed the finger at him as the murderer.

"The reason for that was that we knew it was going to happen again," Mr Hanscombe told BBC Radio 4's Taking a Stand.

"And the only thing that was stopping it from happening was all the press attention that he was under. I felt I had some justification that even though Colin Stagg hadn't been physically incarcerated, that in many ways he had been because the media wasn't going to leave him alone."

Mr Hanscombe has since written a letter of apology to Mr Stagg.

"I'd been responsible for a lot of suffering that he went through and I felt it was time to apologise for that, put it right."

Cold case review

In 2002, a decade after the murder, Mr Hanscombe was contacted by the Metropolitan Police.

DNA techniques had advanced and a cold case review would eventually lead the Met to identify Robert Napper, a paranoid schizophrenic who had been in Broadmoor Psychiatric Hospital since 1996, as the man who had killed Rachel Nickell.

"We've seen the best and worst on an organisational level and on a personal level," says Mr Hanscombe.

"And it shouldn't be forgotten that the final team did produce a successful conviction of Rachel's killer, but at the same time there has been absolutely no holding to account of anybody who was responsible for all of the mistakes.

"Everyone was going down blind alleys and the oversight was just not there."

On the eve of Napper's trial Mr Hanscombe travelled to London and was presented with psychiatric reports.

Image caption Rachel Nickell was stabbed and sexually assaulted on Wimbledon Common

These, and other documents leaked to him, catalogued a series of missed opportunities and errors which allowed Napper to slip through the net time and time again. Napper would go on to kill two other people, Samantha Bisset and her young daughter, Jazmine, in 1993. He sexually assaulted up to 80 women before his arrest.

"That was the first time that I got to learn of this catalogue of just dreadful errors. I'm flicking through these pages and asking myself why I haven't been given this information before," says Mr Hanscombe.

Compensation

Mr Hanscombe decided to seek damages, partly to cover the legal costs of bringing his complaint to the police watchdog, the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

But a 1989 judgement by the Law Lords, known as the Hill ruling, following a case by a parent of one of the Yorkshire Ripper's victims who attempted to sue the police on the basis of negligence, means that he is unlikely to win.

So he has now decided to take his case to the European Court of Human Rights.

"The most important thing... after all these years is that this is never allowed to happen again.

"Nobody has been held accountable and nobody at any high level has been forced to resign.

"They've been dragged kicking and screaming through the Independent Police Commission complaints process... their early disciplinary actions... were not released to the public."

As far as the BBC knows, one police officer involved resigned after being asked to consider his position. Another was verbally cautioned.

The Metropolitan Police issued this statement: "The MPS has apologised unreservedly for failings in the investigation into Rachel Nickell's murder. Andre Hanscombe's lawyers wrote to the MPS seeking compensation but have accepted that there is no basis for a civil claim against the MPS.

"There has already been a payment made to Alex Hanscombe from public funds for the impact of his mother's murder. Having considered all relevant factors the Metropolitan Police Service has made the difficult decision not to compensate Mr Hanscombe or pay his legal costs."

Taking a Stand is on BBC Radio Four on Tuesday 16 November at 0900 and 2130 GMT or listen via the BBC iPlayer.

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