British police hold suspect in killings of 5 prostitutes

December 19, 2006|By Janet Stobart | Janet Stobart,LOS ANGELES TIMES

LONDON -- Police investigating the murders of five prostitutes in eastern England said yesterday that they had arrested a 37-year- old man in Trimley St. Martin on suspicion of killing the women.

They did not immediately identify the suspect. But British news media said he is Tom Stephens, a divorced supermarket worker and part-time taxi driver.

Stephens acknowledged in recent interviews with the BBC and The Sunday Mirror that he had had a relationship with two victims and knew prostitutes in the Suffolk town of Ipswich, the area where the bodies were found.

The bodies were found over a two-week period, beginning late last month.

Police said the investigation would continue despite yesterday's arrest. The hunt for evidence continued into the night, involving officers from more than 30 police forces.

"The police inquiry is ongoing," said Dave Cook of the Suffolk police media office.

In his interview with The Mirror, which appeared Sunday, Stephens said he had been the subject of police inquiries into the killings. "I could get arrested," he was quoted as saying.

"From the police profiling, it does look like me: white male between 25 and 40, knows the area, works strange hours," he said. "I know I'm innocent. But I don't have alibis for some of the time; actually, I'm not sure I have tight alibis for any of the times."

Police reportedly began interrogating Stephens yesterday afternoon. According to British law, authorities have up to 96 hours to carry out questioning before having to charge or release a suspect.

Stephens, who was surprisingly candid in his interviews, said he had gone voluntarily to police and had been questioned four times. His house had been searched, he said, and a mobile phone and laptop were taken for forensic examination.

Last night, British television showed police searching a one-bedroom house where Stephens reportedly lived alone in Trimley St. Martin, about 70 miles northeast of London.

All five women were known to work as prostitutes. All were found naked, their bodies dumped in undergrowth or streams in countryside bordering the A14 main road.

Gemma Adams, 25, was reported missing Nov. 25. A week later, a passer-by found her body in a stream near Ipswich. Stephens told the BBC that he had known her for more than a year.

The body of Tania Nicol, 19, was found Dec. 8 in a nearby river.

Anneli Alderton, 24, was found in the same area Dec. 10. Her death was caused by asphyxiation, police reports said.

Two missing women were found dead Dec. 12. Detectives later identified them as Paula Clennell, 24, who died from "compression to the neck," and Annette Nicholls, 29. Their bodies were found near the village of Levington, close to the A14.

Stephens told interviewers that he began to frequent prostitutes after his divorce 18 months ago.

He told The Sunday Mirror that he was "a friend of all the girls. I was closest to Tania. And Gemma. ... But I should have been there to watch over them," he said.

Janet Stobart writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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