The murder of Rachel Nickell

Rachel Nickell
The Mirror

It was an ordinary morning, a mother and her infant son were walking the dog on Wimbledon common, as they did every morning. But it was this morning, the 15th of July 1992, that twenty three year old Rachel Nickell was brutally attacked. Her throat was cut and she was stabbed up to 49 times and sexually assaulted. All of this taking place in front of her 2 year old child Alexander who was found by a passer by, after the attack, clinging to his mother saying the words “Wake up, Mummy”.

Wake up, Mummy

The MET police oversaw the investigation and quickly identified Colin Stagg, unemployed and a frequent visitor to the common to walk his dog. Investigators launched operation ‘Ezdell’, in which an undercover policewoman attempted to get information from Stagg by appearing to develop a romantic interest in him. This involved regularly meeting up, phone conversations and exchanging letters containing sexual fantasies.

Stagg eventually developed a trust for the undercover officer and revealed his violent fantasies, but he never admitted to the murder itself. It wasn’t until the police gained a recording of a meeting between the female officer and Stagg that they, under the advice of the crown prosecution service, arrested Stagg and charged him with Nickell’s murder.

The trial began and the evidence brought forward. However, the actual recording, on which the police had based the bulk of their argument on, was in fact as such:

Female Officer: “I enjoy hurting people.”

Stagg: “Please explain, as I live a quiet life, if I have disappointed you, please don’t dump me. Nothing like this has happened to me before.”

Female Officer: “If only you had done the Wimbledon Common murder, if only you had killed her, it would be all right.”

Stagg: “I’m terribly sorry, but I haven’t.”

Presenting this case at the Old Bailey, Mr Justice Ognall, proceeding over the trial, ruled that police had shown “excessive zeal” and had tried to incriminate Stagg by “deceptive conduct of the grossest kind”, to which he dismissed the entrapment evidence and the prosecution was forced to withdraw their case. Colin Stagg was formally aquitted in September 1994.

The case was shelved until 2002 when there was a cold case review of Rachel Nickell’s murder. Recent DNA testing had come into being and so was used on traces that had been found on Rachel. The murder was also reevaluated in an attempt to identify certain patterns of behaviour that had been exhibited in the attack and to look further afield to see if it could be connected to any other murders.

In 2006, Robert Napper’s name cropped up. Convicted for the murder and sexual assault of a mother and her 4 year old daughter, 16 months after Nickell’s murder, the dots were starting to align. After a thorough interview with Napper he was arrested and charged with the murder of Rachel Nickell. Though it wasn’t until 18th December 2008 that Robert Napper pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of Rachel Nickell on the grounds of diminished responsibility, due to his diagnosed paranoid schizophrenia. He was sent to Broadmoor hospital indefinitely.

Police went on to release a public apology to Colin Stagg, for his wrongful conviction, but it did little to cover up the series of errors and poor police work, that had been initially carried out. The main focus being that police could have caught Napper earlier and even prevented him from murdering Samantha Bissett and her daughter, but investigators had jumped too soon onto Colin Stagg, even when they had no forensic evidence to back up their accusations.

The question remains, why were police so eager to rush the case and not follow due diligence? Was it due to media pressure, arrogance or just sheer incompetence?