Read For Death Comes Softly Online

Authors: Hilary Bonner

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BOOK: For Death Comes Softly
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Abruptly Richard Jeffries crouched down and put an arm around each child hugging them to him. A gesture to which they responded eagerly.
‘Is this the problem, Detective Chief Inspector?' he asked me. ‘Physical contact is particularly important to Down's Syndrome children, perhaps you know that. I like to cuddle my children. Have we got to the stage where a man cannot do that any more? If so then I reckon we live in a pretty sick place.'
He was obviously very distressed. To be honest, at that stage I found his reactions to be quite understandable, and also almost exactly what I would expect from an innocent man accused of something so abhorrent. But you don't take risks with child abuse.
‘It's a little bit more than that, I'm afraid, Dr Jeffries,' I said. Although I wasn't entirely convinced.
He knew the ropes of course, knew as well as I did that the next stage was for his children to be interviewed by a police officer and a social worker on video in the victim suite at Lockleaze. I had never before dealt with a suspect accused of a crime which it was part of his job to try to prevent, and I rather hoped I wouldn't have to do so again. Certainly I had no idea whether or not he would choose to co-operate. Fortunately he did, which I suppose I might have expected. After all Richard Jeffries would be well aware how lack of co-operation could rebound and possibly result in children being judged at risk and even taken into care at a much earlier stage than would otherwise happen during an investigation. He also knew the lengths which were gone to, even if sometimes this jeopardised the construction of a case, not to upset children in any way. He stood up, still holding Stephen by the hand.
‘All right, DCI Piper, talk to my children,' he said coldly. ‘We have nothing to hide in this family.'
Elizabeth Jeffries had remained sitting on the sofa by the fire. She got up then, walked to her husband's side, took his free hand, and began to speak for the first time.
‘I haven't said anything before because I can barely trust myself,' she announced. Her eyes were very dark now, her lips trembled as she spoke, yet her voice was controlled and even colder than her husband's. ‘I just don't believe that anyone could suspect Richard of such a terrible thing. He has devoted his life to children. He adores Stevie, look at the boy, just look at him . . .'
I did so. Little Anna had again grasped one of her father's legs and Stephen appeared to be trying to climb up the other. He was laughing and giggling to himself, the picture of a happy contented child, although, picking up on his mother's distress, he did glance at her anxiously.
‘It's all right, darling, everything will be fine,' said Richard Jeffries to his wife. ‘We must just keep things normal.' He gestured down at Stephen and Anna. ‘Whatever we do, we mustn't upset the children.'
Elizabeth Jeffries visibly pulled herself together then. ‘You're right, of course, Richard,' she said at once. Then, with some difficulty, she proceeded to extricate Stephen and Anna from their father's legs. ‘Come along, you two,' she instructed, leading them out of the room. ‘Let's leave your father to talk to the nice lady and gentleman.'
I don't suppose either Stephen or Anna detected the heavily laden sarcasm in her last phrase, but Mellor and I certainly did, which had no doubt been her intention.
It was nearly seven when we left the Jeffries' Clifton home, having arranged for the two children to be interviewed at the victim suite at Lockleaze the next day. I went straight back to my own place not far away – one untidy rented room with kitchen area and its own small bathroom, somewhat laughably described as a studio flat.
My first four days back at work had been quite busy and fraught enough to keep any normal person's mind occupied, and certainly, one would have thought, to stop any nonsensical fantasising about Robin Davey – a man quite clearly and literally otherwise engaged. And one with whom I had been seriously angry when I had finally left his island.
Nonetheless, during the week or so since I had returned from Abri, almost every time the phone rang, certainly at home, I had wondered fleetingly if the caller might be Robin Davey. Ridiculous. I gave myself a number of stern and rather cruel lectures, along the lines that I was behaving in a way the likes of Titmuss would consider quite typical of a childless emotionally battered old bag fast approaching middle age. However, I still couldn't quite get Davey out of my thoughts – although I did cross Abri Island, much as I had loved the place, off my list of possible future holiday destinations.
The next day Elizabeth Jeffries accompanied young Stephen and Anna to Lockleaze as arranged. A woman detective constable in an unmarked car picked them up at their home, drove them to the station and escorted them in through the plain blue painted door, which faces the row of shops to one side of Gainsborough Square, and up a flight of stairs directly into the victim suite. The Lockleaze suite, used for interviewing adult victims of rape and other sexual offences as well as children, is converted from the old Inspector's flat, dating from the days when district inspectors used to live over the shop, and its separate front door means that it can be accessed without having to enter the police station proper at all. Mellor and I and Freda Lewis, one of the most experienced and respected social workers in the district, greeted Mrs Jeffries and her children in the sitting room with its soothing blue and grey colour scheme, big squashy sofa and armchairs, and play area equipped with an inviting selection of toys. The room is designed to be unlike anything you would expect to find in a police station and as unintimidating as possible. Only the two video cameras bolted into a corner of the ceiling – one in a fixed position to give an overall view of the room and a second which can be manoeuvred by remote control from the technical room next door for close-ups and angle shots – give any indication that it is in any way different to a normal sitting room.
Stephen Jeffries homed straight in on a big plastic Thomas The Tank Engine, obviously a favourite of his, while his sister, after a little coaxing, found paper and wax crayons and began to draw, giving me chance to explain the procedure to their mother.
I told Elizabeth Jeffries that we would wish to interview each child separately, and that she could stay with the child being interviewed if she wished or wait with the second child in our family room where she could watch the interview on a monitor. Fortunately she opted for the family room which all of us in the CPT prefer, because children, even in perfectly innocent situations, tend to be far less forthcoming in the presence of their parents.
Mrs Jeffries was protective and affectionate towards her children and cold and dismissive towards Mellor and me. She did not, however, seem to know quite what to make of Freda Lewis, a quietly spoken woman in her mid-fifties who had an ability to deal with the most emotive issues with simple logic and cool common sense. Freda had long, straight, rather straggly greying hair and part of her still existed in a kind of sixties' time warp. Summer and Winter she wore full-length flowing floral skirts with lace shawls. She looked a bit like an overgrown schoolgirl and she had about her a natural warmth and childlike forthrightness to which children instinctively responded.
I had called in Freda to interview the Jeffries children along with Peter Mellor. It is normal procedure for a police officer to be joined by a social worker, and I knew that Peter was rather better with children than I was.
The first interview was to be with Stephen. Elizabeth Jeffries and her daughter were settled into the family room with its TV monitor and yet more toys, while I prepared to watch the proceedings on another monitor in the technical room where two note-taking DCs operated the cameras and a double recording machine.
Unlike Stephen's teacher, Claudia Smith, Mellor and Freda Lewis were not allowed to ask the children leading questions. This had been found in the past to produce some highly suspect evidence. Children sometimes give answers for effect, or even merely the answers they think adults want to hear. And interviewing a Down's Syndrome child is fraught with the greatest dangers of all.
Mellor and Freda spent almost a couple of hours with Stephen, watching him at play, gently probing into his day-to-day home life. Eventually the subject of bathtime did arise. For just a moment Stephen seemed uneasy. I thought he was reluctant to look either Freda or Peter Mellor in the eye, but I could not be sure that this was not just his natural shyness.
Ultimately ‘I like to bath with my daddy' was the nearest we got to the story Claudia Smith had come up with. Stephen would take this no further, and certainly made no mention of secret games or his daddy's ‘joystick'.
It was more or less lunchtime when Freda Lewis eventually escorted Stephen to join his mother and sister in the family room, so I despatched a DC to the McDonald's drive-in just up the road for a bag of Big Macs, which the children attacked energetically while none of us adults seemed to have much appetite at all.
The afternoon interview with Anna Jeffries was even less productive. The little girl, although probably even more shy than her brother, gave no signs of any unease at all when Mellor and Freda Lewis probed as much as they dared into her relationship with her father. But the interview had to be brought to a premature close when after half an hour or so she began to whimper and ask for both her mummy and her daddy.
As soon as it was all over, Elizabeth Jeffries, still coldly uncommunicative, asked to be driven home.
‘Neither of my children could tell you anything to back up these extraordinary allegations because they quite simply have nothing to tell,' she said.
I was beginning to think she might be speaking the truth, but we certainly couldn't halt the investigation yet. I explained to Mrs Jeffries that it was standard procedure under the circumstances for the children to be medically examined by a police forensic doctor, and that in order to cause as little distress as possible, I would like this to be done on another occasion in the medical room at the Lockleaze victim suite. For a moment I thought she was going to refuse, but she didn't.
‘I'll make appointments and be in touch,' I said. Then I led Freda and Peter into my broom cupboard for a case discussion.
As we squeezed into the tiny office, with Mellor perched on a corner of the scarred wooden desk as there was room for only two chairs, I first sought Freda's opinion.
‘It's so hard with a Down's Syndrome child,' she said. ‘It would be that much easier for an abuser to convince a boy like Stephen that whatever was going on was just normal behaviour.'
‘So what do you think?' I asked. ‘What's your gut reaction?'
Freda frowned and leaned back in her chair. ‘I'd somehow be surprised if the girl has ever been touched,' she ventured. ‘I just don't know about Stephen. He has a certain reserve, a certain secretiveness about him which I would not really expect from a boy of his age, let alone a Down's Syndrome boy.'
‘So?' I said again.
Freda shrugged. ‘Tough one,' she said. ‘I know Richard Jeffries, of course, which makes it hard to believe these allegations. And Stephen has given us so little today. I don't think you should back off it, Rose, not yet, anyway – but if there is something going on I don't know how you're ever going to prove it.'
I was already beginning to agree with that point of view.
The next day, as procedural regulations demanded, we held a formal strategy discussion and it was decided that a Joint Investigation under Section 47 of the 1989 Children's Act should be conducted by the police and social services, and that Anna and Stephen Jeffries should be put on the official Children At Risk register which would give the social services unlimited access to them and to their home.
The medical examinations of the two Jeffries children proved inconclusive. That was no surprise. The notorious Cleveland investigations when so many children had been wrongly removed from their homes following Dr Marietta Higg's discredited anal reflex tests had taught us there was no short cut to the truth. The next step was to have Richard Jeffries in for questioning, although I would like to have had more to go at him with. We arranged a formal taped interview which Mellor and I conducted. As expected, Jeffries hotly denied the allegations against him.
There was really only one card to play.
‘Your son tells us you get in the bath with him,' I said.
‘Yes, I do,' Richard Jeffries admitted quickly.
‘Isn't that a little odd?'
‘Not to us, Detective Chief Inspector,' he responded.
‘You think it's normal behaviour for a father to bath with his nine-year-old son, do you Dr Jeffries?' I asked.
Jeffries sighed heavily. ‘I have been bathing with my son since he was a baby,' he said in a tired voice. ‘He's Down's Syndrome. He needs physical contact, he needs to have affection expressed, even more than most children do. I never saw any reason to stop bathing with him. I just can't believe there are so many sick minds around.'
We formally interviewed Mrs Jeffries too. She was more openly hostile than her husband, but if Richard Jeffries was abusing Stephen then I somehow could not believe that she knew about it. And how could he hide it from her so effectively? That was another part of the riddle.
She did know that her husband bathed along with Stephen and admitted it freely.
‘It's just people with sick minds who would read something into that with a boy like Stevie,' said Elizabeth, echoing her husband.
‘But he doesn't get into the bath with your daughter?'
‘Of course not,' Elizabeth Jeffries responded. ‘Anna is a little girl. Neither Richard nor I would think that was right.'
BOOK: For Death Comes Softly
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