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Saturday, September 25, 2021

Sir Trevor McDonald: ‘The Fred West case is the worst I’ve covered – and there could be 20 more victims’

“We have passed all our findings to the police,” says McDonald, “and again we are waiting.” Meanwhile at a disused farmhouse, with connections to the Wests near the Berkeley nuclear power station in Gloucestershire, he also believes there are good grounds for the police conducting a detailed search for human remains.

“There is so much more to be discovered,” he emphasises, not quite masking his impatience, “especially about the farm and these fields.” Had the owners of the derelict farmhouse not refused the film-makers entry, they would no doubt have looked for it themselves. Now that, too, is down to the police.  

“I don’t want to be too judgmental,” he says of the owners. “If it was mine, would I want people tramping all over it and getting the notoriety which comes with something that is so redolent of so much evil?”

This is investigative journalism in a velvet glove. The impact on Sir Trevor of working on the films, though, is much more raw. “I have been doing this stuff for very many years and you think you can shrug it off, but a lot of it stays with you, especially if you have family and relatives and friends with young daughters of this age. This could happen to them.”

His own daughter, Joanne, now 39, was a teenager in the early 1990s when the Wests were still driving round, and not just in Gloucester, trying to lure young girls at bus stops into their car. “It is absolutely frightening. The fact that it was a joint enterprise, that they were both engaged in, that Rose sitting in the passenger seat looked reassuring, that was just chilling for me,” he says.

Are our streets any safer now for young women today? “I would hope it could not happen now but I can’t be sure. In a way there was a simplicity to the way these young people were picked up. It wasn’t too tactical. They just went around doing it, targeting girls from care homes where it would take a little longer for relatives to track them down. Awful, awful, awful.”

Strong feelings seem to be simmering behind his words. “I get a bit overwrought,” he acknowledges. 

“When I was travelling all around the world [as a reporter], I would be in the old Soviet Union one day and then south east Asia the next. If someone said to me: “What happened last week?” I’d already put it out of my mind.”

The Wests and their as yet unrecovered victims, however, aren’t so easily packed up. “These things stay with you a little longer. A husband and wife with their own children? That never leaves you.”

He is perhaps saying more than he intended. He laughs, snaps back into the present and closes the door on his inner turmoil. “I suppose I should get a life really, shouldn’t I? Or pour myself a large drink.”

Rose West wasn’t approached at HMP New Hall in Yorkshire for any comments in the making of the documentaries, and probably won’t ever be allowed by the authorities to speak in public, even if she wanted to. But if she was, would he want to be on the other side of the table? 

“I don’t know, but if she was ever minded to speak, I would have thought that these programmes might help her to decide.” He pauses as if thinking about such an interview. Then he stops. “I am a long way off from that.”

Fred And Rose West: Reopened airs on Wednesday September 15 and Thursday September 16 at 9pm on ITV

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