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Guilty until proved innocent

Perhaps the confession of Robert Napper will finally convince the British public that Colin Stagg is innocent of murder

So, the real murderer has finally confessed. After 16 years of living under a cloud, Colin Stagg is finally innocent.

For readers who have no idea what I'm talking about, Colin Stagg was a British man accused of the rape and murder of a young blonde woman, Rachel Nickel, on London's Wimbledon Common in 1992. It was a horrible killing - her two-year-old son was found clinging to her body, begging her to wake up - and the tabloid press were out for blood, putting the Metropolitan Police under heavy pressure to get results. 

The use of a police profiler led the Met to Stagg, a local saddo who might have been a bit of a weirdo but was essentially harmless, and they proceeded to set him up with a honey trap involving a young blonde policewoman.

The 'evidence' they came up with (Stagg struggled to keep up with his companion's fantasies of murder and rape) was so pathetic that the judge, Mr Justice Ognall, threw the case out, describing it as 'deceptive conduct of the worst kind' on the part of the police. (For an account of it by Boris Johnson from 2006, click here.)

Not at any point had Stagg confessed to the murder - in fact, he'd risked losing the woman he thought was his girlfriend by admitting that he hadn't ever killed anyone. But the damage was already done. Stagg spent 18 months in jail for the crime, and many people to this day believe that he had a history of violence and that he 'got off' on a technicality (for more on this, and his treatment in the popular press, click here). Not until 2006 did DNA testing prove that he was not the murderer and not until earlier this year did he win any compensation to help him rebuild his life. His life has been ruined. 

But then Stagg was the perfect fall-guy. Weedy but a body-builder, rat-faced and a virgin. He had a big drawing of the Cerne Abbas giant, sketched in white on black, on his wall, and he claimed to be a member of Wicca (not as well known then as it is now). But what happened to him was a witch-hunt by any description, and meanwhile, the real rapist and murder, Robert Napper, went free to kill again when the police failed to pursue him over blood-testing. Suspected in over 100 other violent rapes, Napper raped, murdered and mutilated Samantha Bisset and her four-year-old daughter just months after killing Nickel. 

To give him credit, the police profiler at this point informed the police that these three women and girls had certainly been killed by the same man. But the Met dismissed his evidence out of hand, 'knowing' that they already had the real killer - Stagg.

The whole case has been a bloody shambles and it reminds us again of one simple reason that no country should ever have a death penalty. Never mind the rights and wrongs of whether it is right for the state to take a human life, no police force in the world can be trusted. Because they are all staffed by people - and people make mistakes. Sometimes awful mistakes. Thank God we are not now having this argument over Colin Stagg's grave instead of his reputation.

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