From the murder of Stephen Lawrence and the Hungerford massacre to the tragic death of Princess Diana, Dr Richard Shepherd has been called to investigate the most notorious, emotionally charged killings of the past 30 years. Here, in compelling detail, the renowned pathologist recounts the true forensic detective stories behind some of Britain’s landmark cases – and the devastating conclusions he would eventually reach.
The detectives had instructed me to leave the M4 at Junction 14 and wait on the slip road for my police escort. A few moments later a car slid alongside mine and two grim faces turned to me. They offered no greetings. ‘Dr Shepherd?’ I nodded. ‘Follow us.’
We passed through a roadblock and I followed the police car very slowly along eerily empty streets.
The last long rays of the evening’s summer sun were passing across this ghost town, bathing it in a benign, warm light.
Anyone alive was inside their home but there was no sense of their presence at the windows. No car moved apart from our own. No dog barked. No cat prowled. Birds were silent.
As we drove through the suburbs we passed a red Renault askew at the side of the road. A woman’s body was slumped over the wheel.
Further on were the smouldering remains of mass killer Michael Ryan’s house on the left.
The road was blocked. A police officer’s body sat motionless in his squad car. The car was riddled with bullet holes. A blue Toyota had collided with it and inside was another dead driver.
It was soon completely dark and I was in a police vehicle, heading for the school where Michael Ryan had barricaded himself in and then shot himself, after killing 16 people in a rampage that lasted nearly seven hours.
We glided very slowly down the still street, the headlights picking up another crashed car, its driver clearly visible, motionless. Once again, I climbed out to look. The light from my torch slid over the feet, the torso, the head. Well, there was no doubt here about the cause of death. A gunshot wound to the face.
We stopped at the next car and then a couple more. The gunshot wounds were in different places each time. Some people had been shot once, some had been shot again and again and again.
Recovery vehicles were waiting unobtrusively to take away the crashed cars after the police had documented them and removed the bodies. I turned to the officer driving me. ‘There’s no need for me to see any more of the bodies in situ. There’s no doubt about how they died so I can deal with it all at post-mortem.’
‘We need you to take a look at Ryan, though,’ he said.
At the John O’Gaunt school there were many more police officers. I was briefed downstairs.
‘He told us he had a bomb. We haven’t searched him yet because we were worried that it would detonate if we moved him. But we need you to have a look at him now and certify death. Just in case he blows up when we do look. All right?’
‘I suggest you don’t move him, sir.’
‘Do you want a flak jacket?’
I declined. It was designed to stop bullets and so would have been of little use at such close range to a bomb. Anyway, I had no intention at all of moving Ryan. We went upstairs.
That rubbery smell of school. And when they opened the classroom door, there were desks. Some of the desks were scattered but most still stood in neat rows.
Pinned around the walls were pictures and scientific diagrams. All perfectly normal.
Apart from a body, propped up in a sitting position at the front of the class near the blackboard. He was wearing a green jacket, with a gunshot wound to his head.
His right hand lay in his lap. It held a Beretta pistol.