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True crime anniversaries in February

An investigation board graphic which reads 'February True Crime Anniversaries'

Each month we are looking back over the crime anniversaries from some of the most significant anniversaries in recent history. Let’s explore the criminal history of February.

5th February: The Morecambe Bay Cockling Disaster (2004)

On the evening of 5th February 2004, at least 21 Chinese illegal immigrant labourers drowned while picking cockles off the Lancashire coast. The workers were allegedly given the job by David Anthony Eden Sr. and David Anthony Eden Jr. The father and son were paying the workers £5 for 25kg of cockles, and the immigrants had been trafficked in containers via the ports in Liverpool. They were hired out through local criminal agents affiliated with the Triads in China.

Emergency services were called by one of the workers who was only able to say ‘sinking water’ before the call ended. The 21 bodies were later found drowned between the cockling area and the shore. The workers had little experience with the nature of the tides and no training in how to pick cockles safely. Both Eden Sr. and Eden Jr. were cleared of helping the workers break immigration law, but gang leader Lin Liang Ren was found guilty of the manslaughter of at least 21 people. Two further workers are believed to have died, but their bodies were never found.

11th February: The murder of Elizabeth McCabe (1980)

The murder of Elizabeth McCabe remains one of Scotland’s most notorious unsolved cases. Elizabeth was just 20-years-old and training to work in a nursery when she disappeared after a night out in Dundee. Her body was found strangled to death in Templeton Woods on 11th February. Elizabeth’s murder came eleven months after another woman was found nearby in the same woods. The police do not link the murders, but that didn’t stop local people from being concerned that there was a serial killer on the loose.

12th February: The abduction and murder of James Bulger (1993)

The abduction and murder of James Bulger remains one of the most significant and notorious crimes in British history. James was just two-years-old when he went missing from Bootle Strand Shopping Centre in Liverpool. His body was found two days later on nearby railway lines. CCTV showed him being led away by two ten-year-old boys, Robert Thompson and Jon Venables.

The boys were charged with James’ murder and became the youngest convicted murderers in British criminal history. Both murderers have since been released and given new identities, though Venables has been recalled to prison more than once. The case led to much scrutiny and reviews of how the legal system dealt with young offenders.

13th February: Penny Jackson commits the ‘Bubble & Squeak Murder’ (2021)

In the sleepy, seaside village of Berrow, Somerset, Penny Jackson was arrested after stabbing her husband four times and calmly calling the emergency services. The recording of the 999 call and police bodycam footage from the arrest was broadcast around the world. The 66-year-old showed no remorse and appeared thankful that she was going to be charged with murder.

She claimed that she finally snapped after years of violence and controlling behaviour from her husband, David Jackson, the tipping point apparently came as a result of a row over her birthday dinner where she served bubble and squeak. However, Penny was sentenced to life in prison and jailed for a minimum of eighteen years.

14th February: Oscar Pistorius shoots Reeva Steenkamp (2013)

For years, Oscar Pistorius' performances at both the Paralympics and Olympics made him one of the most inspirational athletes in the world. However, that all changed on Valentine’s Day 2013 when he shot and killed his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. Pistorius claimed he shot the model after mistaking her for an intruder and reacting aggressively due to his vulnerability as a double-amputee. He was eventually sentenced to fifteen years in prison but could be eligible for parole in 2023.

22nd February: The Angel of Death begins her crimes (1991)

Beverley Allitt, a nurse working at Grantham and Kesteven Hospital, Lincolnshire, was convicted of murdering four children, attempting to murder three more and causing grievous bodily harm to six. Her crimes took place at her workplace over a 59-day period that began on 22nd February 1991.

Several of her victims had been given large doses of insulin, and another had an air bubble injected into their system. In April 1991, the death of baby Becky Phillips saw the hospital realise there was an unusually high number of deaths and cardiac arrests in the children’s ward. The police were brought in, and they soon found Allitt was the only nurse on duty during every attack, and she also had access to all the drugs used. Allitt received thirteen life sentences for her crimes.

24th February: Fred West apprehended (1994)

On 24th February 1994, the police were called to the home of Fred and Rose West to discuss their missing daughter Heather. Within weeks, the police had the grim discovery of Heather's body and several other women’s bodies buried in the grounds of their home. Fred was charged with twelve murders, and his wife Rose with ten. Fred committed suicide while on remand at Winson Green Prison in Birmingham, so he never had to pay for his crimes in prison.

24th February: Maxine Carr given new identity and anonymity (2005)

When people have served their prison sentence, returning to society can be extremely difficult and, for some, impossible. This was deemed to be the case for Maxine Carr, the accomplice of Soham murderer, Ian Huntley. Maxine Carr was Huntley’s girlfriend and also the teaching assistant of the two girls he murdered.

Carr was convicted for perverting the course of justice as she provided Huntley with a false alibi for the night he murdered Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman. She was released on probation in 2004, and on 24th February 2005, won an injunction to grant her lifelong anonymity on the grounds of her life always being at risk. Understandably, this upset many people around the country, including the families of Huntley’s victims.

25th February: The murder of Victoria Climbié (2000)

In February 2000, eight-year-old Victoria Climbié died as a result of abuse and torture carried out by her great aunt and her aunt’s partner. Victoria’s case gained particular attention as she had been suffering prolonged abuse for many years and no-one had tried to help despite noticing signs of abuse.

Victoria moved to Britain a couple of years before her death, as her aunt Marie-Therese Kouao told her parents in the Ivory Coast she wanted to foster one of their children and give them a chance at a better life. While there is no known date for when the abuse and torture started, it is believed to have escalated when they moved in with Kouao’s partner, Carl Manning.

Both Manning and Kouao were convicted of Victoria’s murder, officially recorded as freezing to death, although she had 128 separate injuries on her body. The failings by the police, government departments and the NHS were integral to Victoria 'falling through the cracks’. Her death led to the formation of the Every Child Matters Initiative and the Children’s Act 2004.