The Rachel Nickell Murder Enquiry

Too Little Too Late

Robert Napper Pleaded Guilty To Manslaughter

Rachel Nickell was murdered on Wimbledon Common in July 1992

This is a bit of a different article for me but, I have a particular reason for bringing you this tragic story and it is relevant to the work I am currently involved in. The crime is solved and the perpetrator has been punished but there is more to it, hence the reason for this article.

Rachel Jane Nickell was just 23-years-old when her life was abruptly ended on Wimbledon Common, London on July 15th 1992. She had been walking with her two-year-old son, Alexander Louis and their dog on the common when she was subjected to a particularly vicious attack.

She was stabbed and slashed multiple times, then slashed with a knife, before being left for dead. A passer-by found unharmed little Alexander clinging to his mummy and begging her to wake-up.

As you can imagine, a massive murder enquiry was undertaken by the Metropolitan Police who found themselves under a great deal of pressure from the media and the public, due mostly to the real fear by the public of further killings.

In all, some thirty-two men were questioned by police during the investigation but the focus quickly turned to an unemployed man from Roehampton, England, named Colin Stagg, he was a regular dog-walker on Wimbledon Common but there was no forensic evidence linking him to the murder. Nonetheless, police made Stagg their target from quite an early point of the investigation.

A criminal profiler and criminal psychologist, Paul Britton was asked to study the case and as a result of his work police decided that Stagg fitted the profile perfectly.

The police then set up something of a honeytrap style covert-operation to try to see whether Colin Stagg would eliminate or implicate himself in the case, they named their work “Operation Edzell”.

The Metropolitan Police put an undercover officer in place to befriend Stagg by purporting to be a friend of a woman with whom he had been involved with from a lonely hearts column.

The specialist officer from the Metropolitan Police’s special operations unit SO10 spent some five months trying to obtain information from Colin Stagg by pretending to be romantically interested in him. She regularly spoke to him by telephone, meeting him and exchanging letters in which they even discussed sexual fantasies.

The letters were later disagreed with by the Paul Britton, the profiler who claimed not to know about them until after they had been sent.

The undercover officer and Stagg met in Hyde Park, London on at least one occasion during which they talked about the Rachel Nickell murder, something which Stagg spoke of later and said that he only continued the discussion because the lady had started it and he was keen to continue the romantic relationship.

I guess it could be said that the undercover operation did teach detectives a great deal about Colin Stagg as the officer claimed to have drawn out a character from him including violent fantasies but at no time did he indicate any involvement or in any way admit to Rachel’s murder.

Anyway, the outcome of Operation Edzell was that acting upon the advice of The Crown Prosecution Service the police arrested Stagg on August 17th 1993 and charged him with the murder of Rachel Nickell.

This was where things started to go really wrong for The Metropolitan Police and when the case reached trial at the famous British seat of justice, The Old Bailey, things kind of fell apart,

The trial judge, Mr Justice Ognall ruled that police had shown “excessive zeal” and that they had tried deliberately incriminate Colin Stagg by what he described as ‘deceptive conduct of the of the grossest kind’. The entrapment evidence was rejected from the trial by the judge and the prosecution’s case was withdrawn. The judge officially directed the jury to find Stagg not guilty and threw the case out,

With the news that Stagg had been acquitted, the media began to demand answers once more

The police still didn’t put things at peace for Colin Stagg by admitting that they had got it wrong and that their operation had failed, no far from it. They announced that the investigation into the murder of Rachel Nickell had been closed, but despite the acquittal of their “only suspect”, they were not seeking any other suspects in the case.

In 2002 the Metropolitan Police decided to undertake a cold case review into the murder and appointed a specialist team. The new cold case enquiry used more modern and refined DNA techniques to look at the evidence.

The team which comprised of a small group of officers and a retired police veteran carefully analysed many items of evidence, statements and looked at the possibility that the case could have been linked to other similar crimes.

The injuries, the way that Rachel was killed and the actions of the killer were reviewed and forensic scientists looked at samples using advanced DNA techniques.

In July 2003, after an eighteen-month case review police found a DNA sample on Rachel’s clothing that was not matched to her son or her partner, or indeed any family member who she had seen immediately prior to her walk on that fateful morning. At the time the sample alone was not enough to absolutely identify a suspect but it was enough to enable ruling out of suspects.

In July 2006, detectives finally got to interview a convicted killer, Robert Napper at Broadmoor secure prison hospital. He had been detained at the specialist hospital-style prison after being diagnosed as suffering paranoid schizophrenia and Asperger syndrome.

Napper had been convicted of the murder of Samantha Bisset and her four-year-old daughter, Jazmine in November 1993, some sixteen months after the murder of Rachel Nickell.

Although Robert Napper initially pleaded not guilty to the charge of murder after just two days of a trial at The Old Bailey he entered a plea of guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility. The presiding judge, Mr Justice Griffith Williams ordered that Napper was to be detained indefinitely at Broadmoor and would most likely never be released again

A second young woman & her little girl lost their lives in 1993, due to overzealous detectives who were desperate to convict a man on circumstantial evidence and the word of a profiler

Failed Operation Edzell, with its attempts to put Stagg ‘in the frame’ for the murder of Rachel Nickell, cost British tax-payers some three million pounds and caused an innocent man, Colin Stagg to spend some fourteen months in prison on remand for a crime he did not commit, for which he received one million pounds in compensation.

The undercover officer who spent all that time trying to draw evidence from Stagg that he was never going to able to give her resigned from the Metropolitan Police Force in 1988 and sued the authority for damages, to the tune of one-hundred-and-twenty-five-thousand pounds.

The criminal psychologist/profiler was charged with professional misconduct by The British Psychological Society but due to complex time delays that action was eventually discontinued.

My point in this story is that a child suffered irreparable psychological trauma in watching his young mother murdered before his eyes and another young mum and her daughter lost their lives, simply because detectives were fixated on one man, the wrong man.

Investigating murder and other crime is not simply about picking out a man who “fits a profile” and doing everything possible to make him guilty, far from it. A professional enquiry must look at every single aspect of a case, review and carefully assess every single potential suspect, even if that suspect may seem all ‘too nice’ and only tick some of the boxes.

Finding a person guilty of murder is not just done to put a person in prison, it is to ensure public safety and to see that the memory of the victim is maintained in a respectful manner.

Before I close this article, I feel it only right and proper to say that although I use the word ‘Police’ when referring to the work in the enquiry, obviously the failings in the case are not the same for all officers, there are good and bad in all walks of life and the police force is no exception.

I am currently reviewing another case where it seems something very similar has happened, a name has been put “in the frame” and those responsible are doing their best to make the evidence fit the suspect and as a result, potentially leaving a killer walking the streets.

That case is for another day, I will bring you more in the coming days.

If you would like to contact me to discuss this case further or indeed any other serious crime, be it solved or unsolved then do get in touch, I love to hear from you.



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Lolly True crime

Lolly True crime


Lolly’s True Crime World cold case review specialists, researchers, and Unsolved crime investigation is our passion. Buy me a coffee