‘Brutal and evil’: Rose West’s lawyer reveals what she was really like
The English serial killer had many unexpected sides to her character that still haunt him
Leo Goatley has seen flashes of Rose West’s demonic side. The lawyer who represented her from 1992 to 2004 has been present when the mass murderer has been frustrated, her voice rising to a shriek and her words spat out. In such moments, he could “imagine her reaching a pitch of uncontrollable anger and venom, in which she would be spitting and fuming almost as though something possessed her”.
It is this “brutal and evil” version of Rose that he believes appeared just before she and her husband Fred killed their victims. “But I don’t think she ever got out of first or second gear with me,” says Goatley, in one of his first interviews about the case in decades. “She probably had a certain affection for me, and I never had a problem with her.”
This month marks 25 years since Fred and Rose West were arrested on suspicion of having committed multiple murders and sexual assaults, following the discovery of human remains and signs of torture at their 25 Cromwell Street home in Gloucester, England.
The convicts, their crimes and the people whose lives they destroyed are the subject of documentary Fred and Rose West: The Real Story, in which Goatley features. He was first asked to represent Rose in a 1992 abuse case, in which she lost custody of her children.
Back then, Goatley had no way of knowing his client would become one of Britain’s most notorious serial killers. Nor could he have known he would soon shelve all other work and dedicate himself to representing her in one of the country’s most high-profile criminal cases ever. “You can never entirely move on – I haven’t moved on,” he admits. There are many things that still haunt Goatley, who had a rare insight into Rose’s life at a time when the public longed to know her innermost thoughts.
To him, she was a “straightforward client” who was “reasonable to talk to” – most of the time. She held her cards close to her chest, even with Goatley, but he was still able to gain a sense of her as a person.
Goatley visited Rose in prison, for example, on the afternoon of January 1 1995, soon after she had discovered Fred had killed himself.
“To unravel what was going through her mind wasn’t easy, but I suspect there was a storm of conflicting emotions,” he says. “There was a deep-rooted shock and sense of loss, but also an elation and the sense that she wasn’t going to have to face trial.”
West shared with Goatley intimate details of her life inside the high-security prison in Durham, where she is still held. He knew she had befriended Myra Hindley and listened as she told him how changes at the jail had affected her.
After short stays, inmates had been moved on to Rose’s wing. “She couldn’t do her sewing and had to stay in her cell to avoid incidents, such as people messing around with her food and vandalising her things,” he explains. “That resulted in her being moved from one cell to another, which is very disruptive of someone’s life on the inside.” Despite this rapport, Rose was reserved when it came to discussing Cromwell Street with Goatley.
“She gave very little away, and one never felt really satisfied when she did talk,” he recalls. “Fred would fantasise and take police on journeys across mountains, up and down dales. With Rose, it was always: ‘You’ll have to ask Fred’ or ‘I was looking after the kids, I don’t know’. She batted everything towards Fred, as evidence against her slowly mounted.”
Goatley may have “always tried to take a favourable view” of what Rose told him, but he was also certain of her guilt.
“It was a solely depraved, evil consortium over a number of years and it’s just awful,” he says. “I accept that she was found guilty because she was guilty.
“I don’t think she’s innocent, and I don’t think she believes she’s innocent. But she’s never admitted her guilt to me.”
The closest Rose came to confessing was when, following her conviction, she asked Goatley to withdraw a legal submission that highlighted parts of her trial he thought had been unfair.
She told him “she wanted to spend the rest of her life in prison”, he recalls, but denied that it meant she was guilty.
Soon after, he stopped representing her.
At the end of last year, it was reported that Rose could appeal her case because she didn’t want to die in prison, which Goatley rebuts. “I don’t believe Rose West would be saying she wants to appeal her case,” he says. “It makes no sense at all. There would need to be legal grounds and I can’t think of any. Also, it goes against her wishes.”
A quarter of a century later, Goatley still thinks about the case and her those who suffered so brutally. What lingers is a feeling that “humans are pretty brutal creatures” and the worry that he “never really got into the depths of something that was so awful”.
“We don’t know precisely the narrative of the final moments of these tragic victims,” he says. “There could be more victims. It was such a murky, horrible continuum of events, and you always sensed there was more to it.”
To unravel some of these thoughts, Goatley has recently taken to writing, a process he has found “cathartic”.
“I am surprised myself that I still need to do that,” he says. “I thought I had buried those feelings.”
– © The Daily Telegraph