A press photographer has published a new book on how the press worked to reveal to the world the ugly secrets of serial killers Fred and Rose West.
Hereford photojournalist Mike Charity has taken more than 20 years to chronicle the “story behind the story” of events surrounding one of Britain’s most infamous murder investigations.
His self-published Seasons of Death is a detailed unravelling of an 18-month period of frenetic activity by the police – and the involvement of the local press, the nationals, TV and radio.
The book also praises the “commitment and dedication” of Gloucester Citizen journalist Hugh Worsnip, Hereford Times reporter Liz Watkins and the Gloucestershire Echo’s Percy Mills in uncovering the truth about the crimes.
“I have deliberately drawn into my work some local journalists who during their careers got caught up in unfinished business involving murders and disappearances.
“I am still interested in the tragic disappearance in 1968 of a 15-year-old girl called Mary Bastholm whose whereabouts remains a mystery to this day.”
He added: “This book is a story in a pressman’s lay terms – it doesn’t centre on the horror of the murders but concentrates on how those events were relayed to the world by ordinary journalists and photographers.”
Mike’s “inner circle” view of the Wests’ case begins on day three of the initial investigation into Fred and Rose West which started in February 1994.
He worked non-stop for months and saw three seasons of the year pass by – winter, spring and summer – hence the title of the book.
Police investigations centred on three locations in Gloucester – Cromwell Street, Midland Road and Letterbox Fields, Kempley where the police found the bodies of Fred West’s first wife Rena Costello and girlfriend Ann McFall.
Mike, with nearly 60 years in the news agency business, stayed with the investigations through 1994 until the house at 25 Cromwell Street was boarded up.
“I came back again when news of Fred West’s suicide was announced on 1 January , 1995 and during the trial at Winchester. I made my final visit when the building was demolished,” he added. The Wests were thought responsible for at 11 murders.
One incident Mike recalls vividly was when the police began digging up the house and surrounds. “They closed off the back of the building and we couldn’t get a view of the back garden,” he said.
“I persuaded some local builders who were working down the street to erect some scaffolding so I could look directly into garden – and continue our vigil.”
Mike began his photojournalism career at Derek Evans news agency in his home town of Hereford in 1958. Five years later he set up his own freelance agency in Cheltenham providing words and pictures for, among others, the Hereford Times, Birmingham Post, Western Mail, Western Daily Press, Stroud News and Journal.
Now semi-retired, the 77-year-old still contributes pictures and features to a number of trade titles and regional lifestyle magazines that reflect the characters of his native Herefordshire and the Cotswolds.
“There have been a number of books about the Wests but because I was there literally every day and got to know the main characters looking to solve and report on the terrible events, I always knew there was an interesting story to report the angle from the inner circle,” Mike added.