Darker side of Chichester

THINK hideous crime, and Chichester's natural reaction down the years has been instinctively to say "Well, the criminal can't be one of us."

It's a classic Chichester assumption, one all too often shared by the police - a fact which has certainly hampered them at times in their investigations of Chichester's murders, as Philip MacDougall shows in his latest book.

Chichester Murders And Misdemeanours (Amberley Publishing, 12.99) offers a look at the dark side of Chichester down the centuries.

And in the case of the murder of 11-year-old Vera Hoad in February 1924, it also shows how local presumption of innocence played a part in letting a killer go free.

The case remains unsolved - though Philip has got his own suspicions, very much centred on the killer being local.

"I was looking at how policing methods have improved over the years and a little at the mistakes that the police made. I think it becomes clear that if the police had not had certain expectations, then they might have got it right rather than making an assumption that no one here was capable of committing such a crime, that it must have been committed by someone outside Chichester. It is clear that whoever murdered Vera Hoad knew the area."

Modern-day profiling was not available, of course, to the police back then, but it certainly points very strongly in hindsight to a local killer.

Philip, who lives in Chidham and works at Portsmouth College, has written similarly on murder in Kent.

"With the crimes that are outside the war-time period, you do see this disbelief that ordinary, local people could commit crimes. What it also tells us is that with the upheaval of war and the difficulties of the situation, in a lot of places there was an increase in crime.

"The tendency - and I found this with the book on Kent as well - is for the police to be negative and to say that it was not people from Chichester and also to take a positive view and think that there are certain people that they should investigate first, soldiers and often gipsy travellers, a stereotypical view of who might have done it."

For Philip, the whole book stems from a deeper, underlying fascination with the things that murders tend to tell us.

"Something that interests me is the way an investigation into a crime such as murder sometimes throws up aspects of social life that you don't get to see anywhere else. It tends to tell you a great deal about the ordinary every-day lives of people.

"In the case of Vera Hoad and a couple of war-time murders in the book, the Metropolitan police were called in to investigate because the local police constabulary at that time did not have the resources nor the experience they needed."

Look at the police records, and a valuable insight into social history is gleaned: "They are interviewing so many people in such detail that you find out so much more about what every-day life was like - and about the underside of life..."