Fred West: Police funding to blame for not searching cafe sooner, says Rose West's lawyer

12 May 2021, 18:00 | Updated: 12 May 2021, 18:22

By Charlotte Lynch and Will Taylor

Police investigating Fred West's murders did not investigate a cafe, which could be the site of the remains of one of his suspected victims, because of a lack of funding, it has been claimed.

Leo Goatley, who was lawyer to the serial killer's wife Rose, said officers had previously considered the Clean Plate cafe in Gloucester could be where 15-year-old Mary Bastholm was buried.

She went missing on her way to catch a bus to visit her boyfriend in Gloucester in January 1968.

West, who tortured, raped and murdered an unknown number of women over a 20-year-period with Rose, died in prison aged 53 in 1995. He was suspected over Mary's disappearance.

Gloucestershire Police said it received possible evidence to suggest Mary's body was buried at the cafe after being called by a production company filming a documentary about the Wests' victims.

Speaking to LBC about why the cafe is only being investigated now, Mr Goatley said: "I think it's a problem with police resources, manpower, funding.

Read more: Fred West: Police search cafe for remains of girl, 15, feared to be serial killer's victim

"I know the cafe was on the radar of the police 25, 26 years ago – there was a cursory excavation but they had a lot of other lines of enquiry as they were trying to quantify how many victims there were and how credible it was to actually secure the evidence to charge those victims.

"I suspect the hope was that the police could've returned to the cafe at a later stage because I think the police did believe they would be able to carry on with their inquiry because they thought there were many other victims anyway.

"Once it was confirmed that central government would not provide any additional funding to Gloucestershire Constabulary they said well that's it, we have to draw a line – we've got the community and current issues to deal with and our resources have to go into that.

"But it was always on the police radar and, whilst it was periodically reviewed, without any new tangible factual evidence the police weren't prepared to move.

"Clearly they feel there is something sufficient now to revisit."

A tent outside the cafe
A tent outside the cafe, where Mary Bastholm may have been buried. Picture: PA

Police have been seen at the cafe and a white tent was put up outside.

Detectives have been looking into whether an excavation is necessary and police are expected to be at the scene for a number of weeks.

Mary's family are being supported by officers.

West often did jobs in Gloucester when Mary, a waitress, went missing, and worked on the cafe building.

He is said to have confessed killing her to his son Stephen but never admitted it to police.

Her body was not found in his home in Gloucester, dubbed the "House of Horrors", in the 1994 excavation.

West was charged with 12 murders but took his own life in a Birmingham prison before trial.

Rose West was convicted of 10 murders in November 1995 and is serving life.

Fred West took his own life before he stood trial
Fred West took his own life before he stood trial. Picture: PA

In a statement, Gloucestershire Constabulary said there was previously insufficient evidence to suggest Mary was buried at the cafe.

"During the course of the investigation into Mary Bastholm's disappearance over 250 different lines of enquiry were pursued," the force said.

"Following a complete review of the missing person file during the West inquiry, over 100 people were interviewed.

"Some people in the original enquiry, who may have been of assistance, were found to have died. Despite these enquiries no evidence was found at the time to support arresting Fred West in connection with Mary Bastholm."

The force added that West was questioned but denied involvement. The statement continued: "The Constabulary's current focus is the potential evidence discovered by the production company at the Clean Plate cafe last week and that is where our resources are being directed.

"We plan to continue forensic assessments at the location until Monday, before a more considered decision around the extent of excavation can be made."

A spokeswoman for The Nelson Trust, an addiction rehabilitation and women's support charity which owns The Clean Plate cafe, said: "As soon as we were made aware of the situation, we have done everything we can to accommodate the investigation. The Clean Plate will remain closed until all necessary activity is complete.

"It is an extraordinary twist of fate that this building, now associated with a story as tragic as that of the victims of Fred and Rosemary West, is part of a charity working to support women at risk from violence."