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Rachel Nickell - The Investigation of Colin Stagg

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Criminology
Wordcount: 2908 words Published: 1st Jun 2017

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In July 1992, Rachel Nickell was attacked and murdered, her throat was cut, and she was stabbed 49 times then sexually assaulted. The sensitivity and cruelty of this case from the beginning, police faced pressure from the public and media to solve it. The investigation was carried out by Scotland Yard officers of the Metropolitan Police. After collecting evidence from a crime scene, there was no DNA found, which means that there was no forensic evidence to link any suspect with the crime scene (Evans 1992).

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The Metropolitan Police reached for help and advice from Paul Britton, a criminal psychologist, as profiling is mostly used in those cases where police have just a few clues (Britton 1997). It uses combination of psychological processes and theories with investigation to create offender profiling, geographical analysis of the crime location and offender, advises on interaction with media and providing interview strategies (Stelfox 2009).

The work of Paul Britton can be criticised on the basic grounds, as it looked like he was leading the investigation or had too much powers form investigators instead of just offering the help to investigators to profile unknown suspect. Paul Britton was accused of breaching the British Psychological Society’s code of conduct when he helped the Metropolitan Police detectives to design and conduct the operation ‘Ezdell’, a ‘honey trap’ (Morris 2002).

Paul Britton gave a detail description of a suspect and directed the investigation to Colin Stagg. However, the main aim of profiling is not to provide information for the police about who exactly committed a specific crime as mention earlier, but to make predictions and suggestions about the most probable characteristics, social and psychological assessment of the offender (Ainsworth 2001, Holmes and Holmes 1996).

Paul Britton’s work and involvement in this case can be criticised according to Gudjonsson’s statement, that criminal psychologists tend to work on probabilities, suggestions and predictions, whereas police operate in terms of quilt or innocence, it is like a black and white scenario. It also means that the person labelled a suspect, Britton provided profile of Colin Stagg labelled as a potential suspect, will be presumed guilty until proven innocent (Gudjonsson 1992).


The Metropolitan Police carried out the covert operation just to see if Stagg will eliminate or incriminate himself. An undercover police woman from the Metropolitan Police’s Special Operation Group played role of covert human intelligence source (CHIS). She had to establish and maintain a relationship with Stagg to collect information about his sexual and violent fantasies (Stelfox 2009). Due to his ‘psychological profile’ of a murderer he was supposed to confess and revel his deepest secrets (Roberts and Zuckerman 2004).

In his letters he talked about violent fantasies and over the phone described that he enjoyed hurting people. During the covert operation Stagg never admitted to murdering Rachel Nickell. However, Britton was confident about Stagg’s guilt and received an advice from Crown Prosecution Service’s lawyers. Once again Britton’s role went beyond making predictions and suggestions about most possible characteristics of the suspect (Ainsworth 2001, Holmes and Holmes 1996). He leaded the investigation. Police also believed that those evidences would be sufficient in court and guarantee conviction, after consultation with Britton. Colin Stagg was arrested and charged with Rachel Nickell’s murder in August 1993 (Evans 1992 and Cohen 1999).

The case of Colin Stagg was seen as a textbook example of the unethical use of profiling and the abuse of powers (Turvey 2008 and Ormerod 1999), because the investigation was concentrated on finding the suspect and then constructing the investigation instead of investigating the crime scene and conducting investigation. In the other words, that’s an example of a case construction to charge the suspect (Maguire and Norris 1992).

However, the entire and sophisticated psychological trap was created by Britton. Stagg was manipulated, entrapped, enticed and promised an affair with a beautiful woman only if he would confess. Simply speaking, the aim of the operation was to trick Stagg into confession. Britton’s way of constructing the covert operation, hints during the interview and analysing his reactions were unethical (Cohen 1999, Evans 1992 and Morris 2002).

Also an undercover operation was seen as misconceived and the Metropolitan Police tried to incriminate a suspect by deceptive and unprofessional conduct to receive a confession, entrapment and profiling evidence were excluded and the case was withdrew by the prosecution (Ainsworth 2001, Cohen 1999, Evans 1992 and Johnson 2006).

Arrest and interviewing:

An introduction of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 determined many illegal activities of British detectives and introduced basics changes in approaching and interviewing suspect in the interview room. It is necessary to remember that inappropriate interviewing techniques may result that a genuinely innocent person will make a confession (Ainsworth 2001 and Cherryman, Bull and Vrij 2002).

In Colin Stagg’s case, Paul Britton, gave specific advice to the police about the best way to conduct an interview with a suspect and how to approach him. Those advices were concentrated on the way how to persuade a suspect to confess. Stagg’s interview lasted for three days and during the interrogation suspect’s behaviour was contradictory and sometimes confusing. According to Britton, his denials were suggestive his basic intelligence level, it did not go through his mind that the suspect may be innocent (Ainsworth 2001).

Stagg was detained in custody for interviewing for three days, however a suspect cannot be detained in the custody for longer than 24h without being charged, or it can be extended to 36h with the authority of police superintendent. If there is not enough evidence to charge the suspect, he/she need to be released on bail. According to those three scenarios, Stagg’s detentions in custody would be unlawful, but in case of murder charges, a suspect may be refused release and remain in the custody until the trail (Home Office 2010).

Trial, conviction and eventual acquittal:

There was no forensic evidence linking Colin Stagg with a crime scene, witness said to the police that saw him or a man very like him on the day of Rachel Nickell’s murder – that seems to be enough for the Metropolitan Police to tag Stagg as a suspect. The Metropolitan Police officers were under high pressure from the media and public to get a conviction and tend to misused powers of the science of criminal profiling. They examined and rejected 547 suspects but still have no idea who killed Rachel Nickell. Undercover female police officer tried to get Stagg to confess to Rachel Nickell’s murder, by encouraging Stagg to talk about his sexual and violent fantasies, promising to have sexual intercourse with him if his was the one who killed Rachel Nickell. Months of undercover work produced nothing, Stagg never admitted to murdering and stabbing to death Rachel Nickell.

The police decided to make an arrest and charge Colin Stagg with a murder based on the intelligence collected during the undercover operation. Prosecution withdrew the case and Stagg was acquitted in 1994 (Ainsworth 2001, Cohen 1999).

Cold case review and new suspect:

In 2002, the Scotland Yard police used their cold case review team to have another look at the Rachel Nickell killing. Officers analysed witness statements, checked files for potential suspects and search for a connection between other crimes. They also compared Rachel Nickell’s injuries with other victims and contacted Forensic Science Service about new methods of DNA matching techniques (Tendler 2007).

Latest techniques were used to take microscopic particles of victim’s DNA from the clothing and tested them in the laboratory to produce a match. The match did not belong to victim’s partner or son. Sample was helpful to eliminate some of the suspects, but was insufficient to provide identification (Leppard 2007).

In 2006, the Scotland Yard team interview convicted sex killers in Bradmoor Hospital. Robert Napper was interviewed was interviewed three times by the murder squad. Year later, Nappel was charged with Rachel Nickell’s murder and he pleaded not guilty (O’Neill 2007).

In 2008 Robert Nappel was found guilty of manslaughter of Rachel Nickell on the grounds of diminished responsibility (Leppard 2007 and Dodd 2007).

Robert Nappel and series police errors:

Robert Nappel was also known as Plumstead Ripper, was suspected of up to 40 violent raped, but has never admitted to them. Police started their ‘gross errors in judgment’ in 1989 where they failed to deal with Nappel’s mother claim who reported that Nappel admitted to raping a woman (Casciani 2010). Police officers could have arrest him before he assaulted and murdered more woman, but instead just ignored the claim (News London 2010).

He was eliminated as a suspect from Rachel Nickell’s murder because he was not often in that area of London. However, Metropolitan Police did not checked Nappel’s past and current activities or involvement. In fact he knew the area well because he was attending for the psychiatric treatment in the nearby clinic. That was another mistake made by police which could save women’s life.

There were few situations where Metropolitan Police officers did not joined the dots and saw Napper as a suspect. He was asked twice to give a blood sample for examinations in 1992, after phone calls from neighbours that Napper looks like a wanted rapist. Every time, Napper failed to turn up and after few weeks he was eliminated from the suspects because his height did not fit the description.

After few months he was arrested for stalking a woman from the local police station. The police searched his flat and found pistol, ammunition, information about how to restrain someone, maps of London, and his private diary which included addressed of previous victims. If the police would link Nappel’s belongings found in the flat with Rachel Nickell’s murder, other local murders, then Nappel hopefully would be arrested quicker. Nappel’s victims were restrained, their addressed were in his personal diary and he also knew how to commune to their houses. However, Napper was only given short custodial sentence and during the trial, references about his mental state were made. No further actions were taken and he walked free from the police again.

Year later, he attacked innocent women again, raped and stabbed her to death. After 6 months his finger prints were found in victim’s flat, but according to Britton and his perfect policing skills, the scenario was different and he was free again. In 1999 he was arrested for the above murder on the grounds of diminished responsibility.

The Metropolitan Police failed to stop Nappel from committing terrible killing many times as shown above and he remained free for years. That was an example of catalogue bad decisions’ and major errors that allowed Nappel to murder innocent women. The police did not link few dots together to see overall picture of paranoid schizophrenic’s actions (BBC News 2008, Dodd 2007, Leppard 2007, Laville 2008, Laville, Siddique, Percival and Sturcke 2008 and Sinclair 2010).

The Independent Police Complains Commission (IPCC)

IPCC released a report in June 2010 about the actions of the Metropolitan Police Service in relation to handling the Rachel Nickell’s murder. Their actions were described as ‘catalogue of bas decisions’ which allowed Napper to kill his victims. Police failed to react when Nappel’s mother called to report that her son raped a girl, he simply continued to walk freely on the street s and pick new victims. They missed serious and clearly visible opportunities to question and arrest real killer, committed dreadful mistakes that resulted in innocent women being murdered and several women suffered violent sexual attacks (Holden 2010 and Maynard 2010).


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