Saturday, May 29, 2010

today : close to home/down by the river

Just as I got to the south side of the river on Baildon Bridge there were police in the road, about 10 of them. I was slowing for the lights anyway so I just stopped to let them cross and they ran in front of the cars. At first I thought it was a traffic accident, but couldn't see any debris or the tell-tale signs of people standing around looking a bit bewildered. Plus ten police was way too many. As I pulled up to the lights, on the left I could see a WPC guarding the entrance to the path that led down the side of the glass-fronted luxury car showroom to the river. Behind her the narrow gap was cordoned off with some blue and white crime scene tape.

I drove the short distance to my house and went inside. After I checked the mail and my messages I made a coffee and switched on the TV. I flicked through the channels and found nothing of interest. So I switched to the CD player and spooled through to see what discs I'd left in. I settled on The Hissing of Summer Lawns, and as it played I went and pottered in the kitchen, sharpening knives, arranging a stack of plates in the cupboard, washing up a few dishes and filling a pan of salt-water with new potatoes, ready to cook them later.

The album wasn't quite finished but I went back to the TV, lighting a cigarette and switching back to News 24. There was a breaking news item scrolling along the bottom of the screen, announcing that remains had been found in the search for a missing woman.

As the story unfolded over the evening things grew clearer. After a couple of hours the TV trucks arrived and live reports were coming from the scene. Human remains had been spotted in the river by a walker on the footpath at about two o' clock. That made it less than half an hour prior to when I'd driven over the bridge and let the policemen cross in front of me.

Later, just after midnight, I went out to the petrol station to buy ten cigarettes and on impulse decided to drive back down to the bridge to observe the scene. I drove past and all there was to see was the measures taken to stop people from seeing anything. Steel fencing had been erected on both sides of the bridge. It was tall; the kind that's used to keep people out of rock festivals. All access to the river and the side roads was now cordoned off with blue and white crime scene tape and each point was guarded by a uniformed constable. Through the buildings I could see the peaks of the white tents set up by the police in a car-park next to the river.
Just past the bridge the road curves sharply to the left and after the bend there is the entrance to a DIY superstore car-park. I used the entrance to U-turn the car, and was amused to see the six or seven cars following me did the same. Our curious little convoy crossed back over the bridge and stopped at the lights. I noticed the WPC guarding the pathway down to the river look at her watch and yawn.

24 hours later and the Sun had the headline. "Uni Boffin Questioned in Crossbow Cannibal Murders"

Only last weekend, a friend and I were discussing 'True Crime' - specifically a blog-post of mine that discussed some of my childhood memories about the hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper. For the people of places like Leeds, Bradford, Shipley, Heaton, Baildon, Huddersfield and Halifax the Yorkshire Ripper murders still exert a strange power. Much of it comes from geography, and the fact that for many people, one and sometimes several of Sutcliffes crimes happened closeby. My friend Jane had lived on the same street as him. They were childhood playmates. In my blog piece I described a bus I took as a teenager from the central Leeds police station at Millgarth, back to my school. From the top-deck of the bus we could see two of the murder scenes and the route passed within about half a mile of three more.

Since I moved to the village of Saltaire, on the North Edge of Bradford, I am within a couple of miles of Sutcliffe's house, and a short drive away from where several more of his victims were found. And now I live about a quarter mile from the river where the remains of Suzanne Blamires were spotted floating in the water. Friends of mine attend Bradford Uni, where Stephen Griffiths was apparently studying his Criminology PhD. His flat is just behind the music shop where I buy guitar strings.

Over three days my locale has become the centre of the news world. If I want to see what the weather is like outside, I can just turn on the news.

And then today David Cameron popped up in Saltaire, the 19th Century industrial model village where I live, to give his first major speech as PM. He spoke in a meeting room at Salts Mill where I once attended an educational training course. The horribly congested roads around here were further snarled by temporary closures and an influx of police and media.

Interestingly, nobody on the news mentioned that Cameron was speaking just yards away from the River Aire and only about 400 yards from where frogmen were still searching the waters for the corpses of two women whose original disappearance never made the news because they were from the part of society that is ignored, forgotten and dismissed.

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