Police arrest serial killer suspect

Updated: 2006-12-19 07:22

TRIMLEY- British police arrested a 37-year-old man suspected of murdering five prostitutes in a high-profile serial-killer case that has gripped the nation.

The suspect, identified by media reports as local supermarket worker Tom Stephens, was arrested at his home in Trimley, said Detective Chief Superintendent Stewart Gull.

Police have refused to name the man they arrested. At the weekend, Stephens gave a newspaper interview in which he insisted he was innocent but admitted being unable to explain where he was at the times of the killings.

"I don't have alibis for some of the times. Actually I'm not entirely sure I have tight alibis for any of the times," he told the Sunday Mirror.

But he insisted: "I know I am innocent and I am completely confident it won't go as far as me being charged," adding: "I'm not worried about being charged. I'm innocent."

Under British law, police can detain the suspect for up to four days before either charging him or releasing him, although they will have to seek a judge's permission to go beyond the second day.

Monday's arrest came after police found the bodies of five prostitutes within 10 days -- Gemma Adams, 25, Tania Nicol, 19, 24-year-olds Anneli Alderton and Paula Clennell, and 29-year-old Annette Nicholls.

The village where the arrest took place is just a few miles southeast of Ipswich and very near Levington, where the bodies of the last two victims, Clennell and Nicholls, were found nearly a week ago.

The case has triggered comparisons with the "Yorkshire Ripper" Peter Sutcliffe, convicted of the murders of 13 women between 1975 and 1980, and Jack the Ripper, who killed five east London prostitutes in 1888.

All the Ipswich bodies were found naked in countryside on the outskirts of the town sparking fears of a serial killer on the loose.

None showed signs of having been subjected to significant trauma or serious sexual assault before dying, fueling speculation that the killer might have been a drug dealer who doped them.

According to an AFP reporter at the scene, Ipswich's red light district was empty, and a Suffolk county police spokesman said that police were "conducting reassurance patrols," telling anyone outside in the evening to go home.

The arrested suspect, who has not been charged, was taken to a police station somewhere in the county of Suffolk for questioning.

In the Sunday Mirror, Stephens -- who one police source said was also believed to have worked as a part-time cab driver -- described himself as "sad and lonely," and admitted he was "a friend of all the girls."

"If I had blindfolded them and taken them to the edge of a cliff and said take two steps but take three steps and you'll go over, they would have taken the two steps," he said.

Sky News also reported that Stephens had previously been a special constable, a voluntary part-time community police officer.

Stephens had created his own profile on the MySpace website, where he gave himself the nickname "The Bishop" and described his interests as "keeping fit," and "most types of days/nights out."

Neighbours of the suspect described him as "tall, thin and strange."

"He was a bit of a weirdo," said Lesley-Anne Barber, 50, whose garden backs onto his in the quiet village of Trimley.

It also emerged Monday that a 17-year-old, Vicky Hall, was found strangled in a ditch in the next village to Trimley in 1999 after a night out. One of the five prostitute victims was strangled, another died of compression of the neck.

A man was accused of Hall's murder before being acquitted in court in 2001.

Nearly 10,000 calls from members of the public have been received by the team investigating the recent murders, who are also trawling through 10,000 hours of CCTV footage in the hope of piecing together the final movements of the women.

Almost 500 officers are working on what has become one of Britain's biggest-ever manhunts, with 350 drafted in from 31 police forces around the country, including Northern Ireland, to help Suffolk police.

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