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Wednesday, June 21, 2006 

Mail-watch: The hounding of Colin Stagg.

For years, the Daily Mail suggested that the murderer of Rachel Nickell was Colin Stagg. Stagg, who was tried once for the crime, had no forensic evidence linking him to her murder. He was flagged up as a potential suspect because he matched the psychological profile of her killer that esteemed forensic psychologist Paul Britton had drawn up. (Britton is supposedly the man on whom the criminal profiler Fitz in the ITV series Cracker was based on.) To try to trap Stagg, the police, in consultation with Britton, set up a plot involving a female police officer. She offered Stagg friendship and sex, hoping that he would reveal the sexual traits that Britton thought that the suspect had. Instead Stagg throughout the operation denied involvement in the crime, and did nothing to suggest that he was "deviant" in any way. So desperate were the police that the woman recorded a tape in which, on orders of other officers, she fantasised about being dominated, and even using a knife in apparent sex sessions she was promising. The judge in the case, Mr Justice Ognall, called it the "most vivid illustration of shaping the accused's mind".

Instead of accepting that Stagg was not the killer, the paper continued to lead a low-level campaign for the law against double jeopardy to be changed, so that Stagg could be tried again. In October 1996, the Mail published an article by Chester Stern, a former Scotland Yard press officer, based around quotations from supposed evidence that the police would have used against Stagg, had his trial not been stopped at an early stage by the judge. Another article in the same month, with more of the same, added that "Stagg cannot stand trial for Rachel's murder again, even if new evidence came to light which incriminated him". Four years later in July 2000, the Mail printed another series of articles about Nickell's murder. These were based on a book by Keith Pedder, the detective inspector who led the murder inquiry. Pedder's book is based around the premise that Colin Stagg "got away with murder", and appears to be have been revised at least once since then. Another year went by, and the Mail then carried an interview with Nickell's former boyfriend. He desperately wanted the government to abolish the double jeopardy law. This is just a selection of the most damning articles; no doubt there were others, including opinion pieces, which made similar allegations or insinuations against Stagg.

Today the Mail appears to be running an exclusive interview with Stagg, as it turns out that a Broadmoor inmate is now being questioned over Rachel's murder. The man, if it turns out to be the same one who has been previously fingered, was first accused of being her murderer back in 1995 by err, the Daily Mail. When he was sent to Broadmoor, the next day's Mail led with "DID HE KILL RACHEL TOO?". Is there an apology in the article then, from the interviewer that the Daily Mail likely got it horribly wrong for over ten years? Err, no. Stagg does however intend to claim damages from the police for his treatment. He might want to look back over past issues of the Mail and consider whether he has grounds against them, and indeed Pedder, to sue for either defamation of character or libel.

(This post couldn't have been written without Private Eye 1120, once again showing the Eye's record in campaigning for the victims of miscarriages of justice. Thanks to them for the sources, and the new issue is out today. Go buy it.)

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Apparently, The Sun are equally unapologetic (and unsympathetic) if today's editorial is anything to go by:

ODDBALL Colin Stagg was wrongly nabbed for killing tragic Rachel Nickell. After years living under suspicion, we now know he is innocent.

Police jumped to conclusions after discovering his obsession with knives and black magic, leaving the real murderer free to kill again.

But a compensation claim for L-1million is way out of proportion.

Rachel's little boy, Alex, was given just -L-22,500 for losing his Mum.

Anything more for Colin Stagg would be a mockery of justice.

Indeed, having your name dragged through the mud, being accused of being a sexual deviant and a murderer for 10 years, and still being smeared by the Sun as an "oddball" certainly isn't worth £22,500. He should sue the Sun and Mail and demand even more.

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