What the crime novels don’t tell you

In 1994 Gloucester police dug up a garden in the city and found bodies beneath it. The Cromwell Street Murders is written by John Bennett, the Detective Superintendent who was in charge of the case and the efforts to gather sufficient evidence to convict Fred and Rosemary West for their crimes (actually he has a ghost writer which is made very clear from the beginning).

This is the story of the police investigation and their involvement in the court case. It isn’t the story of the criminals and what they did. The story starts with the uncovering of the first body and finishes when Rosemary West is convicted and is told completely from the point of view of the police. This means that there is discussion of the rules of evidence, how long someone can be questioned for, the role of the appropriate adult, and how an investigation continues when the eyes of the world are on Gloucester. I found this view of what happened fascinating to read and a reminder of the difficulties there can be in gaining evidence which will stand up in court.

If you have read lots of police procedural novels or watched television series about detectives you will see that things in real life are very different from what you imagine when running a large case like this. There are an incredible number of different roles in the team and the chief investigator may never meet the suspects and certainly won’t interview them. The police were unsure up to the last minute whether or not they would be successful in obtaining a conviction and they were hampered at every step by individuals selling their story to the press or leaking information from within the enquiry.

The author doesn’t go into too much detail about the actual crimes and their effect on individuals but there are other true crime books which do that. This is a unique view and you do have to remember that it is just the view of the police – the family and the families of the victims may well see things differently. It’s also not written in the most exciting style although it is easy enough to read.

I found this book interesting and informative. Other books which look specifically at the police/court case and which are worth reading include The People V OJ Simpson by Jeffery Toobin which is about the trial of the ex-American footballer for the murder of his wife and Denial by Deborah E. Lipstadt which is about a case for libel taken against the author by a Holocaust denier.

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