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Michael Robert RYAN






The Hungerford massacre
Classification: Spree killer
Characteristics: Motive unknown - A loner, a man without friends other than his mother and who lived in part in a world of fantasy that he weaved and his mother perpetuated
Number of victims: 16
Date of murder: August 19, 1987
Date of birth: May 18, 1960
Victims profile: 11 men and 5 women (including his mother)
Method of murder: Shooting (two semi-automatic rifles and a handgun)
Location: Hungerford, Berkshire, England, United Kingdom
Status: Committed suicide by shooting himself the same day


One man's massacre

By Jeremy Josephs


4 A Peaceloving Man

PC Roger Brereton did not share Michael Ryan’s enthusiasm for the world of weaponry. Quite the opposite. For during the early part of August 1987, he and a colleague from Newbury police station had been discussing the issue of arming the police. Both had agreed that the British ‘bobby’ was able to police more effectively precisely because he was known to be unarmed. The point was for policing to be, and to be seen to be, by consent, not compulsion. So strongly did the pair believe in an unarmed police force that they both resolved to tender their resignations rather than be obliged by law to carry guns.

‘I met Roger at a coffee bar in Reading back in 1964,’ Liz Brereton recalls. ‘It was at a place called "The Thing". Actually the bar was more of a night club really. I can remember our meeting very clearly, because Roger tripped over me. It was during the evening and quite dark. I had been sitting on the floor - there were no seats, this was the Swinging Sixties, remember - when this person stumbled over me. I looked up and thought, he’s cute - and that was it. I just knew as soon as I looked up that he was the one for me. On my part it was very much love at first sight. I knew the friend who he was with, and he introduced us. Roger then went up to the jukebox, put a record on and asked me for a dance. And that was it. I was a mod then, and so was Roger. He was looking great in his parka, with fur all around the hood, while I was dressed as a mod too, decked out with my suede coat. That coat went everywhere with me, even in a heatwave. I was probably in ray bellbottoms too. We were both just eighteen years old.’

That night Roger Brereton asked if he could escort his new mod girlfriend home. Almost immediately, Liz could see that there were a number of formidable obstacles to be overcome if their romance, scarcely off the ground, was ever going to succeed. She explains: ‘As soon as Roger told me that he was in the Navy, I knew that things were not going to be easy. He just happened to be home on weekend leave when we met. His rank was LREM - leading radio electric mechanic. I have always had a bit of a thing about men in uniforms. But to be honest it wouldn’t have mattered what he was wearing, because I just knew that he was for me. Anyway, that night he told me that in about twelve weeks’ time he was off to Mauritius for eighteen months. I thought, right, that’s it, this relationship doesn’t stand a chance. I said to myself that I wouldn’t be seeing him again - because you know what they say about sailors.’

Whatever it is they say about sailors clearly did not apply to Roger Brereton. Because within a few days Liz had received a postcard from Nairobi, where he had changed planes. The following week a letter arrived, and they continued to arrive throughout the eighteen months of their separation. His commitment was as strong as hers. Nonetheless, it was a courtship of correspondence and all the more difficult because of that.

‘Well, those eighteen months did go by. Eventually he surprised me by just turning up at the office where I was working. Downstairs reception called me. My legs were like jelly when I saw him again for the first time. His back was towards me, and as I walked from the stairs to where he was standing, it was the longest walk in my life. I greeted him with the words: "God, you’ve put on weight!’ But after an hour chatting together it was as if he had not been away.’

Within a week they were engaged to be married. There were to be more separations, though none as long as the Mauritius trip. In 1968, after a four-year courtship, they were wed - only for Roger to be sent off to sea again shortly before their first wedding anniversary, by which time Liz was seven months pregnant. When Roger returned after a year, he set his eyes for the first time on Shaun, his bouncing, ten-month-old son.

‘That was terrible for me, I must say; recalls Liz. ‘I had a telegram at the hospital and that was it. I used to have a particularly hard time in the evenings, when all the husbands would come to visit - except mine. But everyone used to make a fuss of me and that did help a bit’ ‘

A year and a half later Paul Brereton was born. After eleven years in the Navy, Roger was reluctant to leave his young family any more. Instead of becoming easier, the separations had become more difficult to endure for Liz and Roger alike. Committing himself to a second eleven-year term was simply unthinkable.

Roger had made up his mind to join the police. In many respects, it was a logical move. He had thought of such a career as a schoolboy, and what he really wanted was to be a traffic cop.

‘Of course, I knew that there was a certain amount of danger in Roger joining the police force, ‘Liz reveals. ‘But he would have gone mad just doing an ordinary nine to fiver. There is always this underlying tension in the police force, this fear that something might happen. One way of coping was for we police wives to be very supportive of one another, which we were. Because it was the same for all of us. HQ were always very good too, often ringing up, at Roger’s request, if he was going to be late. But it was still always very nice to hear the key in the door.’

A sensitive man, PC Brereton would often try to allay his wife’s fears. His standard light-hearted line was to the effect that should any maniac happen to strike in the vicinity, he would be the first person, and the fastest, running in the opposite direction. It didn’t help a great deal, but just to address the family’s worst fears could itself be therapeutic.

Roger Brereton began his police career as a bobby on the beat in Wantage, in Berkshire. The Breretons first lived with his parents, then hers. The new police constable would walk or cycle around his beat and soon developed a local reputation as a popular and friendly policeman.

‘I was proud of him being a policeman. At. least I could see him every day or night, according to which shift he was working. And I knew that once the initial training period at Hendon was out of the way, then there would be no more separations. He went on the driving course, passed it - and then waited for a posting. It was Newbury. When he passed the driving course, he was over the moon - you couldn’t get his head through the door. And I do remember thinking when he became a traffic cop, thank God for that - now he’ll only be dealing with TAs - traffic accidents, that is. That now he would be safe.’

Brereton loved his work. His childhood dream had come true. There were indeed lots of chases, accidents and ‘domestics’. The work was always interesting and varied. Seldom was there a shortage of compelling anecdotal material to retail to Liz. For policing purposes Brereton’s Newbury traffic base had within its jurisdiction the town of Hungerford. The two towns also had other links, for radio communication at Hungerford was by way of personal UHF radios operated from Newbury, and Hungerford was in any case part of the Newbury Sub-Division, and its personal radios were controlled by the Newbury Control Room.

Professionally, Brereton had little to do with Hungerford, however. When the Breretons set foot in the town it was more likely to be for pleasure than police duties, for both were very fond of the place. A favourite treat was to picnic on the Common, or to browse around the parade of antique shops, second to none in the area. Only ten miles from their police house just outside Newbury, for them Hungerford was the ideal outing.

Roger Brereton was certainly a friendly man, but he could also be tough. How else could he have broken up a pub brawl in which knives were used, as he had once had to do? But he was aware that as far as the implementation of the Road 1Yafftc Act was concerned, sometimes a severe dressing-down could be just as effective as an endorsement or a fine. He once decided to adopt such an approach with a motorist who was driving at well over the speed limit on the M4. As he launched into his reprimand Brereton could not understand why the motorist was not suitably humbled, or what might account for a smirk on his face. Being caught by the police driving at over eighty miles per hour on one of Britain’s main motorways was surely no laughing matter. Brereton had failed to remove some Christmas decorations from his policeman’s hat after the annual office party, and it was the juxtaposition of tinsel and a ticking off which had proved so comic. Always keeping a keen eye on those with designs on the speed limit, Brereton had also once stopped a member of the Royal family for this same offence.

On the morning of 19 August 1987 the sun was shining and there was a gentle breeze in the air. At eight o’clock Roger Brereton set off for work. Liz was showering when he rushed in to kiss her goodbye. Both had overslept and there had been a rather unseemly rush for the bathroom.

‘It wasn’t much of a kiss really,’ Liz explains. ‘His glasses steamed up as he popped his head round the curtain. I reminded him that he had forgotten to wash his hair, because he always liked to look his best for work. As he rushed down the stairs he shouted out: "Not to worry, I’ll do it tonight. See you later.---

Liz topped up the family income by working as a home help. She would tidy the homes of the elderly and infirm, cheering them up in the process. Because a police career is so finely structured, both in terms of age limits and pension rights, many personnel and their families begin to address the issue of retirement relatively early. Roger Brereton was no exception. He always liked to think ahead. In his own mind, at least, his agenda was very nearly fixed. He would in time buy a pub and retire to the West Country. Roger and Liz would run it jointly, and for both it was a very appealing prospect. Occasionally, as Liz went about her work, she would permit her mind to embroider this scenario. Every time, she liked very much what she saw.

But that Wednesday has stayed in her mind for a very different reason, as she explains: ‘Normally, when I used to go on my rounds as a home help, most of the houses I went to would have their radios or televisions on. But on that Wednesday none of them did. When I got to my last lady, it was ten to one in the afternoon, and I could hear the sound of police sirens. I knew I would hear all about it later that evening when Roger would get in from work. I thought it was probably a bad TA. In fact I can remember my exact words to that lady: "Some poor bugger’s in trouble," I said.


5 ‘Something about that Michael Ryan’

If, on that sunny August morning in 1987 when Sue Godfrey and her children were picnicking in the Savernake Forest, Michael Ryan was behaving strangely near by, so too had he been doing at home. Towards the end of July he had become involved in a row with Mrs Christine Reagan, a neighbour whose children had been irritating him by playing on his drive. Ryan’s remedy for any such minor trespasses was to fire airgun pellets at his neighbour while she was hanging out her washing. A little earlier in the year he had also crossed swords, almost literally, with another neighbour, Ivor Pask, on whom he had threatened to draw a knife after an argument prompted by the constant fouling of the footpath by Ryan’s dog. Others within the vicinity had come to fear Ryan too, most notably the children of South View, who had long been terrified by his style of driving as he roared off on his solitary evening excursions in his sporty Vauxhall. Justin Mildenhall recalls: ‘He was mad in his car. Our alley’s so narrow, there’s no footpath. So if a person in a car comes up and there’s someone in the lane, they normally slow past on the bank. But Michael, he’d just go up there really fast, and you would have to press yourself against the hedge or be run down.’

While Ryan was sporadically terrorizing his neighbours, a tragedy was unfolding on the other side of the globe. For on 9 August 1987 the quiet of a Melbourne suburb was shattered by a young man named Julian Knight, a nineteen-year-old failed army officer cadet. He had kitted himself out in paramilitary gear and armed himself with two semi-automatic rifles and a shotgun. He then stalked passers-by from behind bushes, picking them off one by one. In this way he casually murdered six people and wounded a further eighteen. The drunken gunman was ‘finally caught by a wounded traffic policeman, but only after he had run out of ammunition.

But why should a person explode in such a destructive and murderous fashion? For decades psychiatrists have struggled to provide compelling explanations. And yet the personalities of inexplicably violent offenders have been documented nonetheless. For, as long ago as 1963, a group of doctors published a paper entitled The Sudden Murderer, which can be found in Britain’s Archives of General Psychiatry.

‘Such a murderer,’ they argued, ‘was likely to be a young adult male, with no history of previous serious aggressive anti-social acts, who had been reared by a dominant natural mother in a family of origin that had been overtly cohesive during the patient’s childhood. The father had either been hostile, rejecting, overstrict or indifferent.’

Building on this research, Jack Levin, Professor of Sociology at North-eastern University, Boston, has been able to construct a model for the type of person who, like the gunman Julian Knight, kills indiscriminately. There is a combination, according to Levin, of frustration, a precipitating event such as unemployment or divorce and, most important of all, access to and training in firearms.

The problem with such a model, however, is that large numbers of people can fall within its scope. Certainly many millions of people are frustrated with various aspects of their lives. Millions divorce. Millions are unemployed. And certainly large numbers of people have both access to and training in firearms.

There was indeed something distinctly odd about the behaviour of Michael Ryan; a good many of the people of Hungerford could have testified to that. Furthermore, he fitted Levin’s model. But then so did many other members of the Turtnel Rifle and Pistol Club. And when Peter Browning, then a thirty-five-year-old Royal Marine, met Ryan at the Devizes club on the afternoon of Tuesday 18 August, nine days after the carnage inflicted in Australia, he was quite unaware of the slightest trace of abnormal behaviour: ‘I remember that he was wearing brown paramilitary boots, a pair of plain green denim fatigue trousers, a green woolly jumper and a shooting duvet jacket. To me he looked like a regular gun-club member. He was really very polite. Just a nice pleasant. lad who liked to talk to people about guns.

A number of Ryan’s neighbours from South View knew otherwise; so did various colleagues from his last foray into the world of work. But ask them to be more specific and they would be at a loss to identify with any precision what it was about Michael Ryan that set him apart from the rest. Even Ethel Stockwell, a retired nurse and a close friend of Dorothy Ryan, never fathomed Ryan’s personality: ‘I don’t know what it was about that young man. He was impenetrable. But there was definitely something about him. Yes, there was definitely something about that Michael Ryan. And yet I could never quite manage to put my finger on what it was.’


6 Tactical Decisions

There was nothing strange about Paul Brightwell. His career had followed a conventional enough path. He had joined the Thames Valley Police in 1970, and served at a number of its centres, including Aylesbury, Slough and High Wycombe. For many years he had worked in the Traffic Department. But with a view to advancing his career and adding spice to his daily routine, he eventually applied to join the Support Group, whose officers constitute the Tactical Firearms Team.

‘I was in the Support Group between 1979 and 1985,’ Brightwell explains, ‘when I was promoted to the rank of Sergeant. I then left for a couple of years - only to return to the group as a Sergeant at the beginning of 1987. I was then thirty-five years old. When I married Sandy I was already in the job, so she had a fair idea of the sort of work I would be involved in and she has always backed me all the way. I do enjoy our rather specialized field of work. Mind you, I also find the whole area of firearms rather difficult. Because, unlike many people in the group, I’m not a natural shot -just a good average - so I really do have to work at it.’

The first Thames Valley Police Support Group began operations in 1969 on an experimental basis under the command of the Assistant Chief Constable. It consisted of twenty-seven selected officers and dog handlers. The object of the Group was to provide a highly mobile unit of officers, able to perform a preventative role, to support divisions in most aspects of police work and, perhaps most important of all, to give immediate assistance after a report of a serious crime.

In its early days the Group was most active in and around Aylesbury, Amersham, Slough, Bracknell and Reading - familiar terrain to Sergeant Brightwell - where crime was rife. But it also assisted both mi large-scale enquiries and local events such as the Henley Regatta and Royal Ascot.

By 1970 an independent streamlined unit was in place, with a remit covering the whole of the Thames Valley police area. As the years went by, so the Support Group grew in both stature and reputation. Nonetheless it still retains its initial role, continuing to deal with a variety of incidents, such as the policing of major events, crime investigations, house-to-house enquiries, searches and preventative patrols in response to terrorist threats.

The major function of the Support Group, however, is that its officers form the Thames Valley Police’s Tactical Firearms Team, and this has always been the cornerstone of its role. The Team is specifically trained to conclude armed incidents, whether confronting a gunman on the loose or attempting to conclude a siege. It is a highly trained and heavily armed specialist squad whose overriding duty is to provide an efficient, disciplined, twenty-four-hour response to any shooting incident within its police area. Considerable skill and experience are required of candidates for the Group, and every officer selected is trained to a high degree in both tactical and shooting skills.

The Support Group now consists of forty-eight officers headed by a Chief Inspector. There are two Inspectors, one with responsibility for the north of the police area, the other mandated to cover the south. Under each Inspector there are two parties of ten constables and a sergeant working alternate day and night shifts, with one constable acting as coordinator. The precise nature of the work of the Support Group remains shrouded in secrecy, and it uses unmarked vehicles, although these are equipped with portable blue lights and two-tone horns or sirens.

During the summer of 1987 the head of the Support Group was Chief Inspector Glyn Lambert. Having had an operational career within the Thames Valley Police, he had been selected first as an Inspector in the Support Group, before going on to head it. Chief ,Inspector Lambert describes his role and the work of the Group thus: ‘Of course I have passed all the necessary firearms courses myself. But you need to be more than just a proficient shot: you must be able to think and to train tactically. You have to learn how to move around and to be sensible in your approach. Whenever a major firearms incident accurs within our jurisdiction, overall control actually falls to the Assistant Chief Constable. But because of my advisory role as the tactical firearms officer my role is also quite crucial, with my advice being sought on the firearms issue. Once notified of an incident I will ensure that our firearms package gets rolling - that is to say, the communications package, tactical dogs, weapons, officers, helicopters and whatever else I think might be helpful and relevant for the operation. Of course we do have powerful rifles in our pack, although I have to, say that the Kalashnikov is a hell of a weapon. That’s because it’s self-loading. Once launched, its bullets travel at 2900 feet per second - and they can cover a distance of up to four miles. And because of its high penetration, it really is a most fearsome weapon.’

Chief Inspector Lambert indeed had a highly trained group of men, but he did not have the most modern equipment. For example, the control room at the force’s headquarters at Kidlington had out-of-date communications equipment. Nor at that time did the Thames Valley Police then have their own armoured Land Rovers. At the time of the Hungerford massacre, these were a new thing for the police. While the Metropolitan Police had some, few other forces did, and in any case they were not often needed. Compared with some forces in the country, however, the Thames Valley Police were privileged, as Chief Inspector Lambert explains:

‘In 1987 there were only four police helicopters in the country. And we were fortunate enough to have one at our disposal. I always have great faith in the helicopter and I like to work closely with it because it really is an excellent spotting tool. On Wednesday 19 August, however, it is true to say that our helicopter had been temporarily grounded for repairs.’

While repairs were being carried out on the helicopter, the officers of the Support Group were at Otmoor, an army training range, where they had gone to meet the Firearms Training Unit. Sergeant Paul Brightwell was there on that day, and recalls: ‘That Wednesday had been allocated as a firearms training day at Otmoor, which is about eight miles north of 1Gdlington HQ and therefore not so far from Oxford. Every month we would have at least one or two training days. I used to enjoy them very much. On other occasions there would also be tactical training - how to deploy at different incidents and so on. Being an outdoor range, Otmoor was glorious on that sunny Wednesday morning. We spent the first few hours in straightforward firearms training.’

Sergeant Brightwell and his colleagues at the training range were the only officers from the Support Group on duty that day. The rest of the team were off duty, or just about to come on. Thus there was no tactical firearms cover in the south of the Thames Valley police area at all. In policing terms, however, there is nothing remarkable about such a lack of cover, as the former policeman and firearms expert Colin Greenwood explains. ‘Some people believe that you’ll never be able to get a tactical unit into action quickly enough; that effective response times can only be achieved when weapons become available to many’ more local officers. When I was with the police we used to do tests. I would go back and pick a day - three o’clock in the morning on 4 August, say - and then demand of the Force how many armed men would have been available. And each time that was done, we were frightened by the result.’

The Government’s reluctance to allow the police ready access to firearms can be traced back to the first half of the 1980s. For it was then that the police had made a series of disastrous mistakes with their weaponry. An innocent man, Stephen Waldorf, had been gunned down in his car in 1983, and then, two years later, Mrs Cherry Groce was crippled by police fire in Brixton. Only a few months later a five-year-old boy, John Shorthouse, was shot by a policeman in Birmingham. There was a huge public outcry and the seeds of a new approach were sewn. Political pressures resulted in the Home Office issuing a directive that considerably more caution should be shown in the handling of firearms. As a result, the rank necessary to sanction an armed operation was increased from inspector to the Assistant Chief Constable himself. The key to increased public safety, a Government working party later argued, was to have fewer firearms officers, more professionally trained.

Despite this new caution by the Home Office, by 1987 more than 14,000 British police officers were authorized to use guns. The prevailing legislation was then the Criminal Law Act of 1967. Sergeant Brightwell explains: ‘We all used to have to carry a "white card" which showed our authority to use a firearm and which laid out the guidelines under which we could operate. The card quoted from the ‘67 Act, saying that guns can be issued when there is reason to believe that a police officer may have to face a person who is armed or otherwise so dangerous that he could not safely be restrained without the use of firearms".’

The card also specified that guns should be fired by police, only as a last resort when conventional methods have been tried and failed or must from the nature of the circumstances obtaining be unlikely to succeed if tried’. A gun could then be used, the legislation stated, when it ‘is apparent that the police cannot

achieve their lawful purpose of preventing loss or further loss of life by other means’. Sergeant Brightwell and his colleagues in the Support Group were very familiar with the statute, for the extremely cautious wording of the 1967 Act had been drummed into them time and again.

But for all the Group’s members, there was one crucial consideration which always put the entire issue into perspective: that while the decision to open fire is an individual one, that individual’s decision might one day have to be justified before a properly constituted court of law. Sergeant David Warwick, a colleague of Brightwell’s, was not actually in the Support Group. But as a firearms instructor who sometimes supplemented the Tactical Firearms Team’s response, he was well acquainted with the regulations concerning firearms.

On the implications of this rule, Sergeant Brightwell says: ‘Just to fire for the sake of it quite simply makes you a murderer. If I have a person within my sights - even if he has shot another person - I quickly run through three simple tests. Is the person likely to shoot anybody else? Is there any threat to. the public, the police or anybody else? And is the person likely to abscond or commit other offences? If the answers to these questions are coming up no, then you simply do not shoot. In fact if you have to shoot we in the Support Group consider it basically a failure of policy. We are the police. We are not judge, jury and executioner all in one.’

Britain’s police, both armed and unarmed, are. therefore quite properly prohibited by Act of Parliament from using unreasonable force. But at the same time it is accepted that the police should not be obliged to expose themselves to unnecessary risks while carrying out their duty to protect the public. While tl-ds is an extremely delicate balance to achieve, Chief Inspector Glyn Lambert is sure of one thing: ‘When an armed incident occurs it is an impossibility to just go charging in like the Cavalry. Of course we have a duty to save lives if one can. But it is just not on to expose yourself to a ridiculous amount of jeopardy in order to do this. So if necessary we will go cautiously. And if necessary we might even have to go tortuously. I have to protect the public, of course. That is what policing is all about. But I am never going to be prepared to sacrifice my men like lambs to the slaughter needlessly and without a sense of direction or knowledge of what they are trying to achieve.’

There are many other facets to policing besides the firearms issue, which is why, when a major incident occurs, overall operational control immediately passes to the Assistant Chief Constable. And on Wednesday 19 August 1987 this senior position was occupied by Charles Pollard, perhaps the most popular and highly respected person in the entire Thames Valley force. On that Wednesday morning Assistant Chief Constable Pollard was preoccupied with one thing: that his desk should be cleared by the end of the afternoon, for his long-awaited summer leave was due to begin.

A veteran of the siege at the Iranian Embassy in London in 1980 and of the bombing of the Conservative Party conference in Brighton in 1985, Pollard has been a lifelong defender of the principle of Britain’s police remaining unarmed: ‘The Thames Valley Police is, in common with the rest of the police service in this country, a civil, unarmed police force whose members carry out their duties through the consent of the community rather than by force. On those occasions when force is required, tradition provides, and the law dictates, that only the very minimum of force is permissible. This principle is practised not only in everyday policing situations but it is also enshrined in all our policies involving the exercise of force through the use of special equipment such as firearms. What a lot of people don’t realize is that when an incident occurs it’s not just a question of going into a local police station, getting a gun, going out and shooting a suspect. IVs just not as simple as that. It does take time to get weapons out, to get them to the scene, to identify where your suspect is and then to contain him. And that is one of those things which, in a country like ours, we perhaps have to accept.’

As the Assistant Chief Constable set about his paperwork, hoping to be able shortly to go on holiday with a clear conscience, Sergeant Brightwell was engaged in his training session at the army range at Otmoor. Then, suddenly, Brightwell’s pager sounded. Almost simultaneously, Sergeant Winnick’s did likewise. So did those belonging to the firearms instructors. For the last few minutes or so, Kidlington HQ had become frantic with activity. Chief Inspector Lambert, head of the Support Group, was swinging into action, his many years of experience in the police standing him in good stead in a crisis. The Assistant Chief Constable phoned home to break the news to his wife that their holiday was off. Although they did know it at that time, the members of the Tactical Firearms Team of the Thames Valley Police were poised to confront the biggest-ever test for armed police anywhere in the United Kingdom.


7 ‘A man in black has shot my mummy’

At home in North Newnton, Nellie Fisher waited and waited. It was a frustrating time for the great-grandmother on her ninety-fifth birthday; she was growing impatient for the festivities to begin. So too were the other members of the family who had gathered for the occasion. But they all knew very well that the celebrations could not get under way until her favourite granddaughter, Little Sue, had arrived with young Hannah and James.

When Michael Ryan woke up that same morning he was feeling a little off colour. He decided that the best remedy would be to take a couple of paracetamols. Nor was he sure precisely how the day was likely to turn out. But one thing was certain: unlike the previous day, he would not be visiting the ‘Funnel Rifle and Pistol Club in Devizes, the shooting centre where he had been spending so much of his time and energy during recent weeks. Instead, having put on an open-necked white shirt and a pair of blue jeans, he jumped into his D-registration Vauxhall Astra and pulled out of his driveway in South View.

After turning right on to Fairview Road, Ryan then drove down Hungerford’s ancient High Street and headed off towards the A4. He was travelling in a westerly direction, towards the Savernake Forest. It was that well-known Wiltshire beauty spot that ‘Little Sue had chosen for her picnic, with Hannah and James. She had prepared the children’s treat some time before. Indeed she had meticulously planned out their activities for almost every day of those long summer holidays, which, for Hannah at least, still had another three weeks to run. And the weather, that Wednesday morning, had not let them down.

Myra Rose, a spirited pensioner of seventy-five, had also been in the forest that morning. Her home was in Bournemouth, but she was staying with friends in nearby Marlborough. The woodland setting was so soothing that she decided to sit down and read for a while, and before she knew it, almost an hour had slipped by. Her imagination and intellect exercized, she knew that it was time now for her body to benefit likewise. Walking along at a brisk pace, she basked in the glorious sunshine. Suddenly her serenity was shattered by a calm announcement from a little girl. It was four-year-old Hannah, Little Sue’s eldest child.

‘I was walking through the forest,’ Myra Rose would later recall, ‘when these two small children strolled up towards me. "Oh, we’ve been looking for you," the little girl said to me. We were coming to find you!’ They both held my hands and the little girl looked up at me and said: "A man in black has shot my mummy!’ They were both very calm and didn’t really seem at all dazed. "He’s taken the car keys," said the little girl, "and James and me can’t drive the car without the keys!’ Then she said: "We’ve had our picnic - I’m going home to find my daddy. We’re going home!’ They then began to walk off. Well, this was a story you just could not believe. In any case, I hadn’t heard any shots or anything. I was quite simply dumbfounded.’

Dumbfounded though she was, as a grandmother of two children Myra Rose knew full well that she could not allow these two youngsters to wander off all alone into the thick of the forest. Instinctively, without hesitation, she took them under her wing. For the first few moments, however, she was not sure what to believe, in which direction to head or indeed what to do at all. The little girl’s story simply sounded too far-fetched to be true. The kindly old lady, instantly adopted by Hannah and James, decided that she should perhaps go back in the direction the two children had come from and try to find their mother’s car. She was convinced that somewhere in the forest was a young mother frantically searching for her two children.

Whether the little girls story was true or not, Myra Rose knew that her role was to care for these two tiny waifs; to comfort and to calm them. As she embarked on her search, she knew that when it came to distracting or entertaining young children, one of her stories could almost always be relied upon. They had served her well with her own grandchildren in Australia, and, she hoped, they would have the same effect now.

‘The children told me that they had been tired and had had a little sleep in the car; Myra Rose would later explain. ‘They then said that they didn’t know the way back. So we walked back the way I had come from and we met some other people who I had earlier seen having a picnic. Then James began to cling to me. He just would not leave me. It was just such an incredible story, though, I was still not at all sure what to believe.’

Unfortunately, as the adoptive grandmother was shortly to discover, little Hannah could hardly have been a more reliable witness. Her every single word had been true. A man in black had indeed shot her mummy. And that man was Michael Ryan.

During their picnic, Hannah would later disclose to the police, another car was parked nearby, with a man sitting at the steering wheel. Just as her mother was finishing the picnic and foldin g away the groundsheet, the man had got out of his car and walked towards Little Sue and her children.

Ryan was brandishing a Beretta self-loading pistol, capable of firing sixteen shots. Pointing it at Little Sue, he told her to put her children into her own car. As she strapped them in, she succeeded in keeping her composure, speaking confidently and reassuringly to them. ‘I’ll be back in a few minutes,’ she said.

Sue Godfrey’s overriding priority was to give the impression that nothing out of the ordinary had happened, that she remained fully in control of everything that was taking place, just as she always did. In reality, as she knew only too well, something quite extraordinary had happened, and Ryan’s Beretta amply demonstrated that she was not at all in control.

The gunman frogmarched Little Sue into a woodland glade some seventy-five yards from her car, clutching the blue tarpaulin groundsheet under his arm. There is little doubt that Ryan had sex uppermost in his mind when he approached Sue Godfrey, a strikingly attractive woman in her mid-thirties. Certainly the police have long taken this view. ‘Of course, our theory is difficult to substantiate,’ a police spokesman explains, ‘because facts are scarce, and we only have the testimony of the little girl. But Mrs Godfrey was a very good-looking woman being led deep into the woods, with Ryan holding the groundsheet, to boot, so we don’t think that he was taking her on a nature trail. We think that she must have tried to make a run for it. And that in so doing got shot.’

Hannah Godfrey heard those shots. She then saw the man in black run back to his car and speed off. Not surprisingly, there was no sign of her mother. Indeed, mother and children were never to set eyes on one another again. Hannah and James remained in the car for a short while before Hannah decided to unstrap herself and James.

What Hannah did not know was that her mother had been shot ten times in the back. After she had fallen through a wire fence, Ryan had then fired three more shots into her body. The pathologist Dr Roger Ainsworth later confirmed that he had found thirteen bullet holes in her upper back. But it was a policeman, Sergeant Coppen, who had been first to arrive at the scene of the crirne. He found Sue’s car parked on Grand Avenue in the forest, unlocked and with two handbags, several toys and her driving licence inside. He had found her body lying on its side at around 2pm on that warm Wednesday afternoon. Several bullet holes had punctured the blue, flowery dress which she had chosen to wear for Grandma Nellie’s birthday. Ten yards away lay the blue groundsheet. It had been stretched out on the ground, but her clothing remained entirely undisturbed.

Driving home from work that evening, Brian Godfrey heard on the radio that a young mother of two had been shot dead in the Savernake Forest. ‘I thought, how terrible. Obviously I identified with a mother and two kids. But I never dreamed that it was my wife and kids,’Brian recalls.

When he returned to Burghfield Common, the family home in Clay Hill Road was empty. By the time another hour had elapsed the computer technician was distinctly on edge. Then he noticed two tall men walking down the path and making their way towards his front door.

‘They were in plain clothes, but I knew that they were policemen. By the time they were inside I knew that Sue was either hurt or dead.’ One of them said, "You look upset" and I said that I had been listening to the car radio. Then they said: "We’ve got bad news for you - your wife is dead." I asked what had happened to the children and they told me that they were at Swindon police station. What I’ve managed to get from the children is that a man with a gun appeared just as they had finished the picnic. He apparently said to Sue: "I’m going to shoot you if you don’t come with me." She fastened the children into their seats and told them that she would return in a short while.’

Sue Godfrey did not return - Ryan had seen to that - and her children were left to wander about the forest before being found by Myra Rose, who would later explain: ‘I eventually went with the children to Swindon police station. Of course there were lots more stories throughout the day. James was with me all day until his daddy turned up. But when that poor man walked in, I thought that it was a good time for me to creep silently away so that James, in particular, would not notice that I’d gone.’

ITN’s News at Ten broadcast to the nation later that evening the story of what had happened to Sue Godfrey and her two children, a story that was almost ‘unbearably painful’, even to report. As far as Ryan was concerned, however, the day had hardly begun. For as he sped away from the scene of this brutal murder, Mrs Kakoub Dean of the Golden Arrow Service Station on the A4 at Froxfield, was herself about to come within a hair’s breadth of losing her life.

The isolated petrol station was the one where Sue Godfrey had filled up earlier that morning. She and Mrs Dean had exchanged a few brief but friendly words. A couple of hours had passed since then and Mrs Dean had served a good many more customers. For her, it was a typical August day at the Elf service station owned by her husband, Zubair, who also ran a petrol station at Marlborough. Then Ryan’s silver-grey Vauxhall Astra GTE pulled in. For several years now, he had been a regular customer and a familiar, if not always very friendly, face. Mrs Dean, a twenty-nine-year-old Asian mother of three, immediately thought it unusual that he had approached from the Marlborough side, rather than from Hungerford, his customary route.

Almost every other day Ryan would buy £4 or £5 worth of petrol with his Barclaycard. He preferred pump number two, but this time, as well as putting £15.42 worth of petrol in his car, he filled a five-litre can with £2.01 worth.

‘I also thought it a little odd that he had bought more petrol than usual; Mrs Dean would later recall. ‘I always used to say good morning to him, but he would never say a word. He would always just put his credit card down on the counter and never said anything. Not even a thank you. I must say that I always found him a very strange customer.’

Whatever lack of courtesy Ryan might have displayed in the past, Mrs Dean was certainly right about his behaviour being odd that day. For as she turned to the till to register the sale, he seemed to be bending down to remove something from the boot of his car. When she looked up again, Kakoub Dean was staring into the muzzle of a semi-automatic rifle: ‘He seemed to be fiddling with the boot of his car for ages, waiting for another customer to leave. I can’t remember whether I dived below the counter before the gun went off or after.’

Whatever the sequence of Kakoub Dean’s movements, a one inch hole had been blasted through the petrol station’s window, the bullet ricocheting off the wall into the ceiling and out again into the back of the shop: ‘The next thing I knew was a bullet had smashed through the glass kiosk screen and hit the clock. I don’t know how it missed me, because I’m sure I felt it pass through my hair. It was just as I was telling him the amount on the till that I lifted my eyes and saw him pointing this gun straight at me.’

Ryan had missed. But he now stepped inside to do the job properly. Perhaps at closer range he would achieve a little more accuracy. Stunned, Kakoub Dean hid under the counter. ‘Please don’t, please don’t,’ she begged, as the gunman confronted her.

‘I really don’t know if he heard me or not. Because he said nothing. I could see him but he couldn’t see me. He stayed there for a few seconds and was standing holding the gun - but there was nothing I could do.’

As she lay helpless under the counter, Kakoub Dean crawled close to a rack of sweets which formed part of its display. She held her breath and simply waited to die. There was nothing else she could do. She had appealed to Ryan, and it had had the air of a last request. As she did so, the gaunt face of Rambo looked out from the shelves, among an array of other violent and soft-porn videos, including The Terminator.

But all Kakoub Dean heard was the clicking of an empty gun: Ryan, the self-styled marksman extraordinaire, had ran out of ammunition. ‘I heard four or five clicks - and nothing happened,’ she recounts. ‘I know I am lucky to be alive. He would have killed me. I don’t know how I survived. Because there was murder in his eyes. He didn’t smile. He didn’t blink. He didn’t do anything. He just stared straight through me as if I wasn’t there.’

Kakoub Dean had been spared. Little Sue had not. And not long after Ryan sped off from the petrol station, Detective Constable John Tuften, a scene-of-crime officer, arrived at the Savernake Forest to gather evidence with which he would later be able to compile a report or use in evidence. He took away a number of items, including bloodstained leaves, a fragment of wood, three cartridge cases and the blue groundsheet. The following day he returned and removed an additional ten cartridge cases and three bullets. The latter were embedded six inches in the ground.

The investigation into the murder of Sue Godfrey continued apace, and although it was not at all complicated, there were the customary procedures to be followed. Thomas Warlow, a forensic scientist based at the Home Office National Firearms Laboratory in Huntingdon, was soon able to confirm Detective Constable Tuften’s earlier findings. He would later report to the inquest that he had observed two separate groups of spent 9nun cartridges on the ground. Thirteen pistol cartridges, of German manufacture, had indeed been fired. And there was not the slightest doubt in his mind that Ryan’s Beretta had been responsible. For this pistol, which was in good working order, was later found attached to Ryan’s right wrist with a bootlace, and covered with blood.

Nellie Fisher and her family continued to wait for Sue and the children. But by lpm, as Ethel Fisher explains: ‘We thought perhaps there had been an accident. We knew Sue would never just change her mind and return home without letting us know somehow. In the meantime, Joan’s husband rang to tell Joan she wasn1 to travel back home [to Reading] on her own, owing to a shooting at Hungerford. We then telephoned the police to hear what was going on, as Sue hadn’t arrived. They informed us that she had probably been turned back, owing to the trouble. We then sat in Joan’s car to listen to the radio and heard that a young woman had been shot dead at Savernake Forest, and that there were two children walking about - ages two and a half and four and a half. Knowing that she was stopping there to picnic with the children, we knew it was our Sue.

‘The police were contacted again and certain questions were asked by them, and they said they would be coming round to see us. Which of course they did, and told us as gently as they could what had happened. Later we were taken to Swindon police station to collect the children. Brian, Sue’s husband, was already there.’

By 12.40 that morning Michael Ryan had savagely murdered Susan Godfrey and bungled his attempt to kill Kakoub Dean. Immediately after his hasty exit from the service station, the shocked cashier telephoned the police - the first of what would soon become an avalanche of callers. But by this time Ryan was speeding back towards Hungerford.

Just as the serenity of Myra Rose had been destroyed earlier that day, so now was the calm of that quiet market town about to be shattered.



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