A meeting 30 years in the making: The real story behind the brutal murder of Rachel Nickell

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Colin Stagg and Professor Paul Britton. (Photo courtesy of CBS Justice)
Colin Stagg and Professor Paul Britton. (Photo courtesy of CBS Justice)

DOCUMENTARY: The Murder that Changed Britain

"I always thought you were a bit arrogant. A rude kind of guy. But now that I've actually met you, I think you're a nice guy," Colin Stagg says to Professor Paul Britton in the documentary The Murder That Changed Britain.

Stagg was arrested and charged with the murder of Rachel Nickell in August 1993 but was ultimately cleared of any involvement in the crime. Nickell was found murdered on Wimbledon Common on 15 July 1992. She had been sexually assaulted and stabbed 49 times while on a walk with her then-2-year-old son.

Britton, a forensic psychologist, was involved in the investigation into Nickell's murder. His psychological profile of the perpetrator was used to guide the police in their investigation and ultimately led to Stagg being arrested and spending 13 months in custody.

Stagg, who lived near the crime scene, was entrapped by a controversial police strategy known as a "honeytrap", which was orchestrated to get him to confess.

A judge later ruled that there was insufficient evidence to link Stagg to the crime, and he was set free. However, because he was portrayed as the likely perpetrator in the press, he faced a significant amount of public vilification.

In 2002, new technology was used to re-examine evidence from the crime scene, and Robert Napper was connected to Nickell's murder through DNA evidence. DNA samples found on Nickell's body matched Napper's profile. Napper had previously been convicted of manslaughter in connection with another murder that occurred in the same area in 1993 and had also been suspected of several other sexual assaults in the area. He was already serving a life sentence for those crimes.

In 2021, a four-part miniseries titled Deceit about the investigation aired on Channel 4 and added fuel to the fire, painting both Britton and Stagg in an unfavourable light.

"I thought it was the most grossly inaccurate and misrepresenting piece of fiction that I have seen for quite a time," Britton said of the show.

Stagg said: "It portrayed every character in that as very seedy and very grim. It just wasn't like that at all. I was expecting something quite decent to show the truth."

Now, more than 30 years later, The Murder That Changed Britain finally sets the record straight. Britton, who has not spoken out about the case at all, has been the scapegoat for the police's failings in the investigation of the murder, and Stagg has always been led to believe that Britton had it in for him.

In these 30 years, Colin Stagg and Paul Britton have never met. Both men have been profoundly affected; Colin, by being wrongly accused and imprisoned, and Paul, who shouldered the blame for failings by the Met police.

The team behind the film, David Howard and Rik Hall from Monster Films, worked with Britton before on previous documentaries and knew him well. They were also in contact with Stagg. In 2018, they approached the men and asked if they wanted to meet. It was only four years later that Britton decided the time was right.

According to the filmmakers, The Murder That Changed Britain has "allowed wrongs to be righted and the truth to finally come to light, ending a 30-year scapegoating of Paul Britton and bringing an end to the dissemination of misinformation".

When the two men meet in front of the cameras, Stagg says: "Now we have met after 30 years, I'm actually pleasantly surprised."

"Well, I'm glad," a humble Britton replies with a kind smile.

The Murder That Changed Britain will air exclusively on CBS Justice on Sunday, 29 January, at 20:00.

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