Rachel Nickell murder trial judge slams 'media hysteria'

The judge who halted the case against the original suspect in the murder of Rachel Nickell, Colin Stagg, has hit out at newspapers which he said had a “vendetta” against him.

Stagg was the prime suspect in the murder of Nickell on Wimbledon Common in July 1992 but charges against him were dropped in 1994 after Mr Justice Ognall said that evidence gathered by police in a “honey trap” operation involving a female officer was inadmissable.

In August this year, Stagg was awarded £706,000 compensation from the Metropolitan Police. Convicted murderer and rapist Robert Napper has now admitted to the crime.

Writing in The Times, Sir Harry Ognall, said that he hoped that he can be ‘confident that the vendetta pursued against me by certain newspapers in the aftermath of the trial in 1994 is now put to rest”.

Ognall said that before the trial of Stagg it was clear to him that the “media hysteria” surrounding the case meant that the police were faced with ‘overwhelming pressure to identify the killer and establish a compelling case”, but he was faced with a ‘desperate lack of evidence’which he said was the reason that the police set up the honey trap – a female officer coaxing Stagg into making incriminating statements.

He said: ‘It was obvious that the judge would need to be especially wary of the real risk that the jury might be swept along by the tide of widespread hostility to the accused and return a guilt verdict notwithstanding the absence of effective proof.”

Following Stagg’s acquittal, Ognal said, a ‘campaign of innuendo’was mounted in sections of the press that ‘repeatedly invited the public to conclude that Stagg had literally got away with murder”.

‘The truth, of course, was that he had not got away with anything. He had been singled out because he was a soft target. His appearance, his lifestyle and the libidinous exchanges with the policewoman painted him in singularly unattractive colours,’he said.

‘There will no doubt be suggestions that there are obvious lessons to be learned from this 14-year saga. I am not so sure. Media hysteria, an embattled police force and the duty of a criminal trial judge to ensure inherent fairness of the process are not novel dimensions in the history of criminal justice.

‘Arrogance is rarely supplanted by decency. But at least this week – and long into my retirement – I can now look back on R v Colin Stagg as ’emotional recollection in tranquillity’. With that, I am more content.”

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