A retired Crime Scenes Manager, with 30 years of experience in the force, has agreed to share his memories of one night that has continued to haunt him. As you can imagine, it doesn’t make comfortable reading. Please be aware of that before you begin.
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Most of the murders I have attended are preceded by a phone call in the middle of the night. I remember the phone call late on the night of 11th February 2003. A girl’s body had been found in a field in East Cramlington and a 999 call had been received by a young man claiming to have accidentally killed her.
It was a bitterly cold night. The temperature was 4°C but the strong Easterly wind made it feel a whole lot colder. The scene was exposed to the elements with no shelter from the biting wind. A slope in the field led up to a ridge where there were a few sparse bushes, about 100 yards from the nearest houses. Close to the bushes is where I saw Sarah. She was 14 years old. Two SOCO’s were already there and crime scene tape was being strung across the fields and a common approach path was being established. We always try to estimate where the murderer has entered and left the scene and establish our common approach path away from that area, to avoid disturbance.
Sarah was lying on her back and was fully clothed but did not have footwear on. A single trainer lay near to her body. We did not have adequate lighting to enable a thorough examination of the scene. The Home Office pathologist soon appeared and I briefed him as to what we had. I made the decision to leave Sarah where she was until daylight. Not a decision I took lightly. We erected a scene tent and the poor uniform Bobbies were left to look after the scene.
I went home. I did not sleep. My mind was in that field with Sarah.
We all returned at first light. I was informed by the SIO that the arrested man was an 18 year old called Thomas Davis. He claimed to have been having consensual sex with Sarah when he lost control of himself and accidentally strangled her. At his trial it was stated that he had explained under interview, “I was off my nut on drugs. We were having sex and then the drugs kicked in on both of us. She just started throttling me and now she’s not breathing.” At this time we had nothing else to contradict his story and it was being accepted as an explanation by the interview team.
We were joined at the scene by two forensic scientists from the Wetherby lab. An initial examination of Sarah at the scene showed that there was a lot of grass, mud and leaf debris inside her jeans. This suggested that her jeans had been pulled up whilst she was lying inert on her back. If she had pulled them up herself, she would at least have arched her back and there would have been no debris inside.
As I stood on the ridge of the slope and looked back towards the houses I noticed two roughly parallel lines in the early morning frosty dew in the grass. These lines led up to the top of the slope from the bottom of the field, roughly 100 yards away. I walked the length of these lines and found a silver coloured ring halfway up the slope. Sarah had not walked up the slope. She had been dragged backwards, probably unconscious, if she had still been alive.
I called in the helicopter to take aerial pictures in the hope that we could get a record of these marks before the dew evaporated. We then found the missing trainer at the bottom of the slope in undergrowth. Sarah had not been a willing partner in what had taken place before her death. I radioed this new development to the SIO and interview team.
The post-mortem concluded that Sarah had been beaten about the head and strangled. I don’t think Sarah knew what Davis had done to her. She would certainly have been unconscious by the time she was dragged up the field if not already dead.
Davis was not Sarah’s boyfriend, although she had known him for a couple of years. He had bragged to his friends that he was going to sleep with her. He had met up with her and plied her with 2 litres of cheap wine. She was heavily intoxicated but blood tests showed him to be sober and not under the influence of any drugs. He eventually pleaded guilty to Murder and Rape. It was recommended that he serve at least 10 years imprisonment.
Sarah’s parents had been out for a meal that evening as it was their silver wedding anniversary. Her mother had a bad premonition that something was wrong and they left to go home early. Her mother later wrote a book entitled ‘If Only’. In it she chronicles Sarah’s life and death and tells us that she will never be able to come to terms with this tragic loss of such a young and promising life.
I pass close to the scene every week when I go to pick up my granddaughters and I always think of Sarah and hope that she has gone to a better place. I did not know her in life but she has touched mine.