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From 'Peeping Tom' to killer: The murder of Libby Squire

The humber bridge over the humber estuary
Libby Squire's body was discovered in the Humber Estuary by local fisherman | Shutterstock

The tragic murder of 21-year-old Hull University student Libby Squire in February 2019 appalled the nation for several reasons. Here was a gregarious and vivacious young woman, whose vicious murder may have been preventable if the authorities had information about her sexually disturbed killer’s past.

Libby’s opportunist killer, 26-year-old Polish citizen Pawel Relowicz, had prowled the streets of Hull late at night on 1st February, looking for an easy target. He found one in Libby, who had been turned away from a nightclub. After being put in a taxi by her close friends, Libby became disorientated while making the journey between the vehicle and her house.

Relowicz spotted her from his car and began to stalk her. His sinister actions caught on CCTV cameras show him assessing his victim’s vulnerability. We will never know what made Libby get into Relowicz’s car, but moments later she was attacked in a field, raped, murdered, and her body thrown into the city river. After a two-week search, Libby’s body was found by a fisherman in the Humber Estuary.

Married Killer

Relowicz, a married man with two children was sentenced to 27 years. Justice Lambert presiding over the case acknowledged the family’s tortuous pain having lost a daughter in such harrowing circumstances and remarked that the philosophy student “did not stand a chance” from the moment a “malignant twist of fate” caused the pair’s paths to cross.

The question Libby’s parents and loved ones must continually ponder is why a man with a history of anti-social sexual behaviour, could escalate from "Peeping Tom" with previous convictions for a string of sexually motivated offences, to becoming a killer? Before that fatal night, Relowicz had been driven by a compulsion to expose himself. During investigations, it was disclosed that he had been witnessed on several occasions masturbating in front of women. His obsessive voyeuristic behaviour had evolved to the extent that he even left "trophies" – such as a pair of knickers on a gate or used condoms - where he had spied on unsuspecting females and couples.

Compulsive Deviant Behaviour

So why was a man such as Relowicz, driven by deviant behaviour and a compulsive desire to shock by performing sexual acts publicly, allowed to go unchecked and unmonitored as his campaign of stalking and exhibitionism became more dangerous? One reason that takes precedence over other factors is the way low key sexual crimes are perceived, not just by the police and authorities but also the public.

In a disturbing incident in 2017, Relowicz was spotted by a student couple peering through their bedroom window, before running away. The incident illustrates how such offences are not taken seriously. The girl was unimpressed by the police officers who visited the following day to take details and fingerprints.

“Everyone else had played it down… (but) I knew something was very wrong,” said the girl in an interview with the BBC after Relowicz’s conviction. “I always had a feeling that this was going to be somebody who wasn’t going to do it just the once.”

The disturbed victim was the only one who felt threatened and violated. As a result, she not only changed the locks to the flat but eventually moved out. After Relowicz’s arrest, she admitted that she was terrified by the implications of such behaviour, fearing Relowicz’s, or any man like him, would inevitably seek greater kicks to fulfil a perverted need.

Perverted Confidence to Rape

Justice Lambert pointed to the fact that before Libby’s murder, Relowicz’s offending escalated because he was “increasingly emboldened” by his sinister actions, possibly believing he was invincible or deriving pleasure from getting away with his behaviour. “You watched these women, staring back at them brazenly, even after they had spotted you,” Lambert told Relowicz in court as his trial came to an end.

There have many cases where rapists and sexual predators who went on to kill were influenced by either early sexual experiences, misogynistic feelings, or a reliance on hardcore pornography featuring the brutalisation of women. But a deep-rooted social view of certain types of voyeuristic and exhibitionistic behaviour is still treated as a joke because of its association with racy humour.

Cultural Downplaying

There is a cultural aspect to the underplaying of voyeurism and exhibitionism by men that is still seen for the most part through a prism of harmless innocence, created through decades of sexist television comedy shows and films.

A possible lack of information about a particular person’s history of indecent exposure and voyeurism in public has led the police to fail to acknowledge signs of escalation to predatory behaviour where the perpetrator may crave stronger sexual kicks. Had Relowicz been imprisoned for such early voyeuristic and exhibitionist offences, or forced to undergo psychiatric treatment, would his deviant compulsions have escalated to the point that he became a dangerous predator?

David Wilson, a criminology professor believes that traditionally voyeurism has rarely been viewed as a serious crime, but the subject of mirth and hilarity. "It wasn't so long ago that Peeping Toms would feature on so-called humorous postcards that you would send to family and friends when you are visiting the seaside. Culturally we've not taken the behaviour of voyeurism seriously for a very long time. There's a tendency to think of the Peeping Tom almost as an insignificant joke-like character, whereas they cause a great deal of harm and hurt. They are predatory sexual offenders and should be treated as such."

Change of Perception of Sex Pests

What is missing from the equation is simply a lack of information about a character’s past that involves deviant sexual behaviour, which theoretically could be acted upon if seen to be escalating. In the case of Relowicz, he already had convictions of anti-social behaviour that revealed a habitual obsession with sexually taunting women or trying to get a reaction from them.

Not all men with similar kinks prove to be dangerous, but when such behaviour becomes a public nuisance, should the law take a tougher stance to safeguard the public from activity that could lead to serious sexual crimes?

Libby’s parents’ lives have been turned upside down, crushed, and left empty by the cruel loss of their daughter. For them no number of years their daughter’s killer serves in prison will bring her back. But hopefully, a change of perception both by the police and the public of “harmless” sexual behaviour will encourage greater scrutiny of offenders so that it doesn’t lead to sexual violence or murder.