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New head of Norfolk and Suffolk's Major Investigation Team's memories of 'harrowing' scene when bodies of Soham schoolgirls were discovered

PUBLISHED: 16:38 20 January 2019

Police press conference for the East Harling murder. Detective superintendent Andy Smith. Picture : ANTONY KELLY

Police press conference for the East Harling murder. Detective superintendent Andy Smith. Picture : ANTONY KELLY

He was one of the first officers on scene at the ditch where the bodies of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman were discovered.

Police press conference for the East Harling murder. Detective superintendent Andy Smith. Picture : ANTONY KELLYPolice press conference for the East Harling murder. Detective superintendent Andy Smith. Picture : ANTONY KELLY

That “harrowing” scene in a field near Lakenheath in 2002 was Andy Smith’s “first big introduction to major investigations”.

Now, almost 20 years on, Detective Superintendent Andy Smith has just taken up his role as head of the joint Norfolk and Suffolk Major Investigations Team (MIT).

The team is responsible for investigating some of the most serious crimes, in both counties, including murders, manslaughters, rape investigations, kidnap, extortion and work-related deaths.

Mr Smith, who has more than 25 years service and almost 10 years experience in major investigations, said he is delighted to have taken up the role.

The remains of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman were discovered in an overgrown ditch at Lakenheath, Suffolk on August 17 2002. PIC PA Photo Andrew ParsonsThe remains of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman were discovered in an overgrown ditch at Lakenheath, Suffolk on August 17 2002. PIC PA Photo Andrew Parsons

He said: “I’m genuinely really delighted to be back.

“My background is in major investigations and I’m really passionate about it.

“It’s that opportunity to support victims, investigate the most heinous crimes, identify the person or persons responsible and bring them to justice and provide some closure for the victim and their families. It is immensely rewarding and the thing I’m really passionate about.”

Mr Smith still has vivid memories of his time as a detective constable at Mildenhall when he was involved in the investigation into the horrific murders of Soham schoolgirls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, who were both 10, in August 2002.

Holly Wells (left) and her best friend, Jessica Chapman, both 10.  PA Photo.Holly Wells (left) and her best friend, Jessica Chapman, both 10. PA Photo.

“We got a phone call to say there were skeletal remains found in a ditch and myself and a couple of colleagues provided the first response. As soon as we had confirmed we were dealing with human remains we set about securing the area and managing scene preservation to maximise evidence recovery.

He said: “That was my first big introduction to major investigations.”

Ian Huntley, a school caretaker, was convicted of the murders of the schoolgirls in December 2003 and sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum term later being set at 40 years.

Fast forward nearly 20 years and Mr Smith was involved in supporting another high profile case - the murder of 83-year-old dog walker Peter Wrighton in woods at East Harling in 2017.

Peter Wrighton. Picture: Norfolk ConstabularyPeter Wrighton. Picture: Norfolk Constabulary

Alexander Palmer, a former soldier, was jailed for life in February last year having been caught a week after Mr Wrighton’s body was discovered.

Mr Smith described that investigation as a “great” team effort across Norfolk Constabulary and with external support being provided by other agencies including the National Crime Agency.

Mr Smith, who has previously been a detective inspector and detective chief inspector on the joint major investigations team for a total of five years said the Norfolk and Suffolk MIT was “one of the oldest collaborated units in the country”.

He said he wanted to ensure that the combined team provided a “platinum level service” for victims of major crime in both counties.

Alexander Palmer, who stabbed 83-year-old Peter Wrighton to death in East Harling. Picture: Norfolk Police/ArchantAlexander Palmer, who stabbed 83-year-old Peter Wrighton to death in East Harling. Picture: Norfolk Police/Archant

A significant concern is the number of knife-related incidents in the region in recent months.

At least five people were the victims of stabbings in Norwich in the couple of months leading up to Christmas.

There have been further knife-related attacks in the city in the first few weeks of January while police continue to investigate a fatal stabbing in Great Yarmouth in October last year.

Mr Smith said: “It’s an issue for every force in the country around county lines and the violence that’s linked to drug dealing activities.”

But still Mr Smith admitted it was “absolutely a concern of mine”.

Mr Smith said current priorities, in addition to working on live cases, were in making sure those cases about to come to court were trial ready.

But Mr Smith said it was also important not to forget so called “cold cases”, or long-standing unsolved cases that both forces had.

Mr Smith said: “I’m really, really keen to stress that while we’ve got these live investigations we never forget these unsolved cases as well”

Mr Smith said advances in forensic science and technology meant there would always be opportunities for the police to pursue justice for families in these cases.

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