Deceit true story: Police missed seven chances to catch Rachel Nikell’s ‘psychotic’ Killer

Trailer for new Channel 4 drama Deceit

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The four-part series, starting tonight, explores a catastrophic police operation as an officer goes undercover to try and bait a potential killer. The series examines the controversial honeytrap method used by police as a female undercover officer, codenamed ‘Lizzie James’, is asked to become sexual bait for the suspect. The drama stars Niamh Algar, best known for her parts in MotherFatherSon and Raised by Wolves, as the undercover detective Lizzie James.

The cast also includes Line of Duty’s Rochenda Sandall, I Hate Suzie’s Nathaniel Martello-White and The Crown star Harry Treadaway who swaps his role as Princess’ Margaret’s partner in the Netflix series, to play a young DI Keith Pedder.

On July 15 1992, Rachel was found stabbed 49 times on Wimbledon Common, a crime which had been committed in front of her distraught two-year-old son.

Colin Stagg, an alleged loner who lived near the Common, soon became the prime suspect.

A female undercover police officer was given the pseudonym Lizzie James and spent five months contacting Mr Stagg through explicit letters.

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By the end, the officer was virtually demanding Stagg confess to Rachel’s murder in return for sadomasochistic sex.

Mr Stagg was arrested on suspicion of murdering Rachel in August 1993 and held in custody for a year before the case was thrown out at the Old Bailey in 1994 by Mr Justice Ognall, who refused to put the undercover officer’s evidence before a jury.

Yet for over a decade Mr Stagg was forced to live under the shadow of the unsolved murder, until December 2008 when Robert Napper, aged 42, pled guilty to Rachel’s manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.

Mr Stagg was awarded with £706,000 worth of compensation by the home office for the police blunders whilst many also questioned how Napper, who police believe was a compulsive stalker potentially responsible for more than 100 sex attacks had not been caught.

Napper’s psychiatrist, Natalie Pyszora, told the court after her patient pled guilty: “His intent was to find a woman for sex and he went to Wimbledon Common with a knife.”

She believed his state of mind had been “psychotic” and his paranoid schizophrenia and Asperger’s syndrome “gave him the feeling that he was untouchable”.

Indeed, according to the Daily Mail in 2008, the police missed seven chances to catch Napper.

In October 1989, Napper confessed he had raped a woman in Plumstead to his mother, who subsequently called the police.

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However, she reported the attack had taken place on a common rather than in a house and after a police check found no sign of attacks on the common, Napper was not questioned nor was a DNA sample taken.

Then, across 4 months in 1992 Napper attempted to rape two women and raped another.

He had already killed Rachel by the time an e-fit was issued and when a neighbour called to say Napper matched the rapist’s description, police arranged for him to give DNA samples.

When the killer missed both of his appointments, the police did nothing.

Later that year, another caller identified the rapist’s e-fit as “Bob Napper” but he was eliminated from the investigation as he was over 6ft, even though a victim had previously told police her attacker was 6ft3.

When police arrested Napper in 1992 for firearm possession and ammunition without a certificate, they discovered an A-Z map at his home marked with the locations some of his rapes had taken place, yet he was only prosecuted for the firearm offence.

In 1993, Napper was again stopped by police after being spotted climbing the wall of a young mother’s home but was let go after persuading the coppers he had been out for a walk.

That same year a tin containing a gun covered with Napper’s fingerprints was discovered in Plumstead, yet police once more, did nothing.

In November 1993, he killed Samantha Bisset, a single mother and her four-year-old daughter Jazmine and within days the police had a full DNA profile of the attacker which years later proved his guilt in Rachel’s murder.

For the murder of Samantha and Jazmine the killer pled guilty in 1995 to two counts of manslaughter on grounds of diminished responsibility and also admitted to one rape and two attempted rapes, yet Rachel’s death was still a mystery.

In 2001, a DNA sample was taken from Rachel, but was returned to analysts at the Forensic Fire Service with no DNA match.

Yet the test was faulty and only three years later when retested was the link with Napper finally established.

Deceit’s first episode airs tonight on Channel 4 at 9pm.
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