Does Britain or the world need another documentary about the horrors that happened at 25 Cromwell Street? Maybe not, but Channel 5 have given us this one anyway.
Last year, ITV screened a two part docudrama about serial killer Fred West. This latest offering, from Channel 5, is a straight documentary. Currently it can be found on Demand 5, but will doubtless make its way onto YouTube at some point.
For those, mostly outside the UK, who are not familiar with the story - terrible, depraved and shocking in equal measure - this is as good an introduction as any; it begins by quoting the words of the prosecution at the trial of his wife. Fred West was said to have been someone who had opted out of the human race. Rosemary West was tried for and convicted of ten murders, including of her own daughter, and the daughter of her husband from a previous marriage. This latter murder was committed while he was in prison, so although it is generally accepted that he was responsible for corrupting her, there can be no doubt that eventually, like him, she wallowed in depravity.
Rosemary West stood trial by herself because her husband had committed suicide while on remand awaiting trial, on January 1, 1995.
The documentary traces West from his childhood, with the claim that his father was a child abuser, and that Fred himself had an incestuous relationship with his own mother. These claims are not new, of course, and we will never be able to confirm them one way or the other. What is known is that West had a very low IQ; most serial killers have quite the opposite: Ted Bundy and Harold Shipman for example had very high IQs. Shipman was a doctor, and it is not inconceivable, had he channelled his energies in another direction, that Bundy could have become a lawyer or even a Congressman.
Another clue to the depravity of Fred West is a serious road accident he suffered as a teenager, in 1958. The speculation - intelligent speculation for once - is that his already somewhat abnormal brain was further damaged by this accident, turning a potential psychopath into a real one.
The programme interviews one of the West's victims who survived, Caroline Owens (as she then was). Although she was raped by West, she was too terrified to testify, and the Wests were fined £25 each for indecent assault and walked free. By this time, they already had blood on their hands; if Caroline Owens had been more resolute, or perhaps if the police had probed a bit further, it is quite likely their reign of torture, depravity and murder would have ended there. Alas...
The Wests were finally brought to book when police searched their house expecting to find the body of their daughter Heather in the cellar, who had been missing for number of years. The pathologist is interviewed here; it was him who told the police the remains they had found belonged to more than one body. More than one is the operative phrase; the police thought their investigation was over save for dotting the i's and crossing the t's, but it had only just begun, at which point Britain and the world was to learn the full extent of the horror of 25 Cromwell Street, their previous address, and also the field where two of his earlier victims had been buried.
This is the first programme in a series called Born To Kill. The conclusion is that West was indeed born to kill, but never let it be forgotten there is that little thing called free will which even the most potentially depraved of human beings is capable of exercising.