Hannah Deterville: Ten years since schoolgirl murdered
ON NEW YEARS DAY ten years ago I met my pal Frank by arrangement outside the Grand Junction Arms at Harlesden, and we took a walk along the canal towpath to Alperton, where we stopped for a drink. Then we resumed our canal-side walk as far as Perivale, from where we walked up Horsenden Hill. There were a few people with children flying kites on the hilltop.
We went down the other side of the hill, through the oak wood, and out to Sudbury, from where we took the bus to Wembley, and walked down the Ealing Road, where Frank was delighted to find the Asian shops open so he could purchase some delicacies to take home. We finished up at Alperton again, with a meal at my favourite curry house, before taking our buses home.
A good day to start the year. The following day was more boring. I did some washing, had a few pints with the regulars in the Junction, went home. The reason I particularly remember that day was something that happened, of which I was not aware, and to someone I never met.
It was after I had returned to work that I came home one evening and was sitting down to my tea when some familiar-looking greenery caught my eye on the TV and I heard the words "Horsenden Hill". It was not a pleasant news item. Responding to an anonymous message police had gone to the hill and found a body hidden among some bushes. It was identified as that of a 15-year old girl called Hannah Deterville who had disappeared on the evening of January 2.
It was lead story in the local paper that week. The murdered young girl (she had been stabbed twenty times) had lived with her parents in Queens Park, west London. Police did not think the murder had been committed where she was found, but that whoever had hidden the body knew their way around the place.
Because I had been to the hill with my mate the day before it happened this case attracted my attention. Because I used public transport the mention of two places - Queens Park and Horsenden Hill - made me think automatically of the 187 bus route, which in those days ran from behind Queens Park station to South Harrow, passing near Horsenden Hill.
If a girl from Queens Park had been killed by someone who lived near the other end of that route, could they have met somewhere in between? Harlesden? Park Royal hospital? There had been a couple of dodgy-looking characters hanging around there. But what about the area around Park Royal station? Whenever I came through it of an evening, particularly at weekends or in school holidays, there were young people meeting up with their mates to go to the nearby entertainment complex - bowling alley, cinemas, McDonald's etc- south of the A40 on the former industrial estate.
Suppose the 15-year old had gone up there with some school pals, but then got separated from them in the course of the evening, and been approached by some bloke who seemed OK, and said he could give her a lift home? It is just supposition. I knew nothing about Hannah or where she could have gone that evening, nor if the police already knew something. However, after thinking it over, and seeing nothing about any progress being made in the case, I decided to write to the police officer who was heading the investigation, setting out my thoughts. I suggested that if posters were put up at Park Royal station and other places showing Hannah Deterville they might jog someone's memory, to say if they saw anyone talking to her or if she had got in a car, for instance. Having posted my letter I reflected that the police probably get loads of letters, and would just think I was a crank spinning theories and wasting their time.
In fact, I got a 'phone call at work from the detective in charge of the case, who thanked me and said the information I supplied about the 'bus route might be useful, as riding around in cars all the time they did not know about such things. He was going to come down and meet me in my lunch hour the following day, but then he rang to say he would not have time.
I got in touch with an old friend from my youth, Professor David Canter, who had done pioneer work on the psychology of the built environment before becoming a specialist advising police on criminal profiles and patterns of behaviour in relation to location. Dave thought my reasoning on the bus route sounded reasonable, though without knowing the particular case. But he also warned me to be careful about contacting the police because whenever someone shows too much interest in how they are getting on with a case they start becoming suspicious as to what your interest is, and whether you are a friend making inquiries for the criminal, or even yourself the person they should be looking for. This got me worried for a while.
I never did see any posters at Park Royal or elsewhere on that route between Queens Park and Horsenden Hill where I thought Hannah might have met her killer. I did see a poster asking for information and help at a bus stop on Haven Green, Ealing, some time later, only this was apparently posted by Hannah Deterville's family. The only police poster I remember seeing on this case was at Edgware Road station, in quite the opposite direction. Of course the family could have had some idea where Hannah might have gone that fatal evening, and the police may have had their reasons for focusing where they did. I would have felt a shameful impostor intruding on the family's grief with my speculation, and there was nothing more I could usefully tell the police.
(When the Ealing Gazette, to which I had confided some of my ideas, referred to me a year later as an "amateur sleuth" and said I accused the police of dragging their heels, I thought "Oh no, now I am in trouble!", particularly as I was questioned by police soon after about an incident near my home. Fortunately they soon realised I was telling the truth and was not involved).
The sad fact is though that ten years after Hannah Deterville was murdered there is still no solution to the case. We must assume that the killer - or killers (it is thought it would have taken two people to carry the body to where it was hidden) are still at large. What's more, several other young women have been killed or disappeared in the area since then, and while we don't know, we can't help wondering about connections, and fearing the.worst.