The son of a woman who was butchered in front of him by a paranoid schizophrenic has said he forgives his mother’s killer.
In July 1992 Rachel Nickell was s*xually assaulted and stabbed 49 times while out walking with her three-year-old son Alex Hanscombe and their rescue dog Molly.
The life Rachel and boyfriend André Hanscombe had created for themselves and their son was snatched away in a crime that horrified the nation and Alex now says he has forgiven Robert Napper as he believes that ‘if you don’t forgive the person who caused you harm, then you become that person in time.’
For 16 years father and son endured more and more pain as police wrongly accused Colin Stagg of Rachel’s murder. Stagg spent a year in jail for the crime while the real killer Napper lay unnoticed, going on to slaughter another young mother and her child.
Ten years ago André sat opposite Napper in court while the callous killer confessed to the murder of Rachel. He was sentenced to be held in Broadmoor high-security psychiatric hospital, in Berkshire.
Both André and Alex now say they can forgive Napper and André even shows some sympathy towards him.
Speaking to The Mirror 55-year-old André said: ‘There is forgiveness of course.
‘He was a poor mistreated child at some time, he was in care and foster homes, and some people respond one way, and others respond in another way. That allows you to feel some kind of compassion.’
Looking back on the sentencing at the Old Bailey, more than ten years ago André says that he doesn’t feel any rage towards Napper, despite the fact that he murdered his girlfriend in front of his son. Speaking of the day in court André says it was a ‘surreal’ and ‘intense experience’.
On that day in the Old Bailey a decade ago, André says he doesn’t feel any rage towards the man who murdered his girlfriend in front of his baby son as he remembers seeing him in court.
‘He didn’t look at me, he was probably heavily medicated. You could see that this was very dysfunctional and distressed person.
‘I always knew that anyone who could commit an act like this was an extremely troubled person, the frenzy of it is not the act of someone having a bad day or losing their temper.
‘It’s a process. We were victims. We were victims of an attack, we were victims of a police failure.
‘But it gets to the stage where you think: ‘Am I going to do this forever?’ We didn’t want to be victims.’
Alex, who is now 29-years-old added that he has also come to terms with the death of his mother and has also managed to forgive the killer.
‘Forgiveness for us is that if you don’t forgive the person who caused you harm, then you become that person in time,’ he says.
Perhaps this attitude comes from the pair already having exhausted their grief on the wrong man.
In September 1994, Stagg was cleared of the charges against him and was and awarded £750,000 in compensation for the bungled police operation.
The case then lay cold until 2004, when advancements in DNA evidence led police to Napper, who confessed to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.
He was already banged up in Broadmoor for murdering model Samantha Bisset and her four-year-old daughter Jazmine.
André, who had been convinced police had originally got the right man, wrote Stagg a letter on his release, apologising for believing that it was him who had murdered his girlfriend.
‘I was a lot more angry with Colin Stagg, it was a lot more raw then,’ he said
André and Alex have had their ups and downs and had fights when Alex was a teenager. The pair had moved to France and then Barcelona following the murder and as Alex grew older he decided he would move back to London to study music.
He eventually returned to Barcelona to live with his father, and the pair went travelling together for four years around Egypt, Thailand, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and India, where Alex studied yoga.
Alex has taken his yoga teachings and has used them to help him move on from the death of his mother.
‘The nature of human existence is from darkness to light so, for me, my mother’s killer represents the darkness of human existence’, he said.
Father and son now share an unbreakable bond and are working on a series of children’s books based on Alex’s childhood – with Molly the rescue dog taking a starring role – and self-help books based on their trauma.
English literature student Rachel was just 19 when she met semi-professional tennis player André at a swimming pool where she was working as a lifeguard and within a few months she became pregnant with Alex.
Reminiscing about Rachel, André still smiles at the thought of her.
He said: ‘Rachel has had a huge influence on the way things turned out.
‘She made it clear that if anything happened to her that she wanted me to bring Alex up in the best way possible.
‘She lavished so much attention on Alex in the three years they were together, that she imbued him with that strength and independence.’
On Jul 15 1992, a passer-by found Alex clinging onto Rachel’s body repeatedly crying ‘wake up mummy’. In an autobiography about his experiences, penned 25 years after his mother’s death, Alex is able to recall that day with clarity.
In less than a split second, life seemed to have come to a standstill. She was gone.’
However he now says he ‘never thinks about it and instead remembers the happiness they shared together during the few years they had.
‘I have memories of that day, but fortunately for me I also have memories of us all being together, of loving and being loved in return.’
For André he still remembers the fear he carried after the murder, as police triggered one of its biggest ever manhunts to find the killer.
‘I was in fear of Alex´s life. I was the only witness to my mother’s murder, and there was always the chance the killer could come back,’ Alex says.
‘That was something the police were whispering in my father’s ear all the time. There was the possibility he could find us. I felt safer abroad.’
The ten-year anniversary of Napper’s confession now holds little significance for the pair.
Alex now says that ‘life had moved on’ before Napper’s admission.
‘We had to find closure away from that,’ he says.
‘If a person is found guilty and then you find out it was another … it’s a rollercoaster.
‘We had to live with the fact this case might never be solved, we had to find a way of finding peace and stability.’
André also agreed that the chaotic nature of the case meant even knowing Rachel’s real killer has been caught for ten years provides little closure.
He said: ‘From day one, it was an open affair. There was no closure. There were so many years that went by with no closure. Colin Stagg, Robert Napper… it was just a continuation of the same old story.
‘I just had to do what I had to do to make sure Alex was ok, that was my number one responsibility.
‘Who it was who killed Rachel was something I could never actually rely on because mistakes had been made before about the identity. The police swore it was Colin Stagg, and then you find yourself a decade later in the same situation.’
One other close connection to Rachel was Labrador-greyhound cross dog Molly who André and Alex kept until she died at the age of 13, with Alex affectionately seeing the pup as his ‘little sister’.
‘Rachel used to say we were her ‘little pack’,’ André smiles.
‘She really instilled that in us.
‘She had such an infectious smile. She was an old soul, someone you don’t forget.’
Who is Colin Stagg?
In 1992 Rachel Nickell was murdered in Wimbledon Common in London and Colin Stagg was wrongly accused of the crime.
In one of the most controversial investigations in the Met’s history, bungling police arrested Stagg and locked him up for a year.
In efforts to establish Stagg as the killer, detectives used unconventional tactics, including a honey trap. In a strange twist of events, police even employed forensic psychologist Paul Britton in order to tempt Stagg into a confession.
Undercover detective ‘Lizzie James’, who was used to honeytrap Stagg, claimed the pressure of the case gave her PTSD and was reportedly awarded £125,000 in compensation.
Police became convinced that Stagg, an unemployed man from Roehampton, who was known to walk his dog on the common, was Rachel’s killer.
In 1993 Stagg was charged with Nickell’s murder, with more than 500 suspects having been interviewed by police.
In 1994 the trial against Stagg then collapsed with the ruling judge condemning the police. After being formally cleared of Nickell’s murder, Stagg announced his intention to sue the police.
In October 1992 Scotland Yard reopened the investigation into the murder, while some officers in the force, the media and Andre Handscombe, Nickell’s widower, believed Stagg was guilty.
In May 1995 Stagg was then given probation for threatening a man with an axe on Wimbledon Common. He pled guilty to threatening behaviour and possessing a weapon.
One year on, Stagg then passes a televised lie detector test on the Cook Report, but was criticised for refusing to take truth drugs.
It was 16 years before Rachel’s true killer, Robert Napper was caught. Stagg was then given a pay out of over £700,000 for his ordeal.
Stagg had previously said that the money had been spent on fancy cars, holidays and bad investments.