IPSWICH, England – A 48-year-old truck driver who lives in the red-light district of the town of Ipswich appeared in court on Friday charged with the murder of five prostitutes whose naked bodies were found in that area of eastern England over a 10-day period.
At the brief hearing in Ipswich Magistrates Court, Stephen Wright spoke only to confirm his name, address and date of birth before he was ordered held in custody, to appear for a court hearing on Jan. 2. His lawyer, Paul Osler, said he would not appeal for Wright's release on bail.
After a murder hunt that filled newspapers and television screens for weeks and drew hundreds of officers and other experts to the area, police arrested Wright on Tuesday and charged him late Thursday.
Police have expressed concern that intense media coverage could jeopardize the case, and Britain's attorney general warned journalists to report it responsibly.
There was a heavy police presence outside the courthouse during Wright's hearing.
The suspect was taken to and from the court under tight security in a police van escorted by police cars and motorcycles, while dozens of photographers pressed behind crowd control barriers. Wright had been kept in custody at an unidentified police station for three days.
Prosecutor Robert Sadd gave a quick outline of the case to magistrates. And prosecutor Michael Crimp said there was "sufficient evidence" to charge Wright with the murders of Gemma Adams, Tania Nicol, Anneli Alderton, Paula Clennell and Annette Nicholls, the five women who had worked as prostitutes in Ipswich and whose bodies were found in quick succession beginning Dec. 2.
"As the case has developed, we have been carefully examining and assessing the evidence in order to come to a charging decision at the earliest possible opportunity," Crimp said.
Police arrested Wright at 5 a.m. on Tuesday at his home near where several of the women were last seen. Police also seized a blue Ford Mondeo car from the property.
A 37-year-old man — identified in news reports as Tom Stephens — who had been arrested in the case on Monday, was released on bail without charge pending further inquiries. He had been arrested at his home 8 miles southeast of Ipswich, where all the victims worked.
Inquests into the deaths of all five women have been formally opened and then adjourned, as is usual in British legal procedure.
Police said Alderton, 24, was strangled, and a senior pathologist determined that Clennell, 24, died of "compression" to her neck. Police refused to elaborate about that. Post-mortem examinations of the bodies of Nicol, 19, Nicholls, 29, and Adams, 25, reached no conclusion on the cause of death.
As the women's bodies were found, fears for the safety of all women in the area. Town authorities organized shuttle services to get women home from the local council offices and two of the town's largest employers equipped their female employees with panic alarms.
The suspected serial killer reminded Britons of the so-called Yorkshire Ripper who killed 13 women over five years in the 1970s. That killing spree prompted comparisons to Jack the Ripper, the notorious Victorian serial killer who murdered at least five East London prostitutes in 1888.To