Like Amanda Knox who is currently facing a retrial today, when I was 18 years old I too was a murder suspect despite having done nothing more criminal the night in question than getting pissed and eating pie and chips...
During the summer of 1988 I was on a break from Art College and working in a door factory near Hull. I was getting paid far more than any 18 year old could possibly spend on booze and records for sweeping floors for 10 hours a day, all week. Miserable job, loads of money. Hence weekends went by in a blur of booze and vinyl.
One Friday I got royally twatted with a mate of mine (and fellow Saboteur, Russ Litten) in my local boozer. I remember leaving at the bell for last orders, slaughtered, not knowing that within minutes I was, unwittingly, to be yards away from a real slaughtering….and I still do not remember it. I left the boozer at closing time and can remember buying a late-night meat and pastry item with a fried carbohydrate side order and staggering off home. (I’m surprised that over the years I haven’t lost a few fingers while troughing down closing time food, such is my youthful ferocity during such inebriation-food celebrations. There’s been many a time I’ve shat out plastic prongs of chip forks the morning after over-zealous shovelling and mastication of post piss-up Chips and Mushy Peas.)
Anyway, I arrived home safe after the short walk. Woke up in the morning to find chunks of vinegary steak and kidney in my eyebrows and the stirrings of a hard-on. Nothing new there. However, after I’d shaken off my hangover I saw the local paper. There was an ‘artists impression,’ of me, large, on the front page (minus meat and condiment based facial decoration) and the word ‘MURDER’ underneath. I don’t mind admitting that, at that moment, I felt a slight tightening of my anus. Upon reading the story is gleaned that a local driving instructor and amateur rugby player called Keith Slater had been stabbed in the neck after answering his front door to a stranger, at the same time as I had been bludgeoning my supper to death on the same street.
There was an ‘artists impression,’ of me, large, on the front page (minus meat and condiment based facial decoration) and the word ‘MURDER’ underneath.
I wasn’t the only person who noticed the likeness of the suspect to myself. For the next two days my Dad was supportive, in the way that Dads are… “Arrrgh you murdering bastard!”…. “Have you put the knife back in the kitchen, your Mother’s about to get me tea on?” etc. The following day I saw my Sister, at the time a respected Detective Sergeant in the local constabulary, she also pointed out the likeness of the main suspect’s boat face to mine. I quietly told her that I was down the street at exactly the time the murder happened. She made some enquiries.
It turned out that the witnesses who, after seeing the suspected murderer in the street, had provided the description which the portrait was based on. They had also described the suspect as wearing the exact same clothing I was wearing that night (think Joe Strummer circa Combat Rock). The portrait was by now was on the front page of many newspapers including the Sundays, and on the TV. The police were looking for me.
My sister took a statement which she gave to the investigating officers. The following week I was paid a visit by two boys in blue. They looked like they’d eaten a few chip forks in their time. They asked me many predictable questions about driving lessons, if my girlfriend was having any, if I was having any, if I played rugby, if my girlfriend did, and many details regarding my movements that night, many of which were hazy memories of what was, for me, an uneventful stagger home. They then interviewed the friends I was out with that night to find potential differences in my account. There were none. I had been yards away from the murder, but had seen nothing. Over the following months I had several more police visits and interviews. I simply told the truth, which by now was reduced to “I was pissed, I ate pie and chips and went home, having killed nobody.”
Then I had my first and only brush with Jill Dando. I’m in my student house tucked behind the Leeds College of Art. Crimewatch comes on. Somebody is playing me in the reconstruction! I would have gladly done it! I was pissed off! In addition he looked nothing like me. Nowhere near as cool. This wouldn’t jog anyone’s memory, such were the inaccuracies. No way! I was throwing Findus crispy Pancakes at the Telly as Jill said the words “Do you remember a drunken man at the scene eating chips and probably vomiting?” I didn’t vomit! I don’t waste Pies! Accompanied by moving images of some Naff Numpty staggering along with a polystyrene food tray in his hand wearing a shoulder padded leather jacket that I wouldn’t be seen dead in, and replicas of my white Beetle Crushers were criminally absent from the scene.……“WARDROBE!”
Crimewatch comes on. Somebody is playing me in the reconstruction!
For 17 years there were no other suspects. No leads. Nothing. Zilch. But the case was never closed. Occasionally there’d be some sort of un-specified ‘breakthrough’ in the news. The Police would put out a press statement and my portrait would be on the front of the paper again and I’d have my Dad on the phone “They’re after you again! When you gonna admit it son?…come on you can tell us” followed by him giving me a carrier bag full of the articles the next time I went home.
In 2007 DNA advancements and a matchbox found near the scene of the crime with the victim’s date of birth written on it lead them to the occult obsessed true culprit. He hadn’t even known the victim, fate was decided by numerology and Tarot card practise alone. He had moved to Australia after committing the murder. The police arrested him, he was tried and he was given a life sentence. The Newspapers and TV reported. At the time they didn’t have a photo, so they used my face again (Cheers!)
My Dad was on the phone within minutes of the Hull Daily Mail dropping through the letterbox. When a photo of the culprit was finally released he had no resemblance to me, whatsoever.
Looking back I’m glad there were no over-zealous coppers willing to form plot around me in order to quota fill and appease the apprehensive public. But surely that doesn’t happen….right? Like it never happened to Barry George after the murder of the (aforementioned) Jill Dando.