Coroner rules Elsie Frost was unlawfully killed

Tuesday 19 November 2019

Anna Morris of Garden Court represented the family, instructed by Gemma Vine of Minton Morrill Solicitors.

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Before HM Senior Coroner for West Yorkshire (Eastern Division) Mr Kevin McLoughlin 
Wakefield Coroner’s Court 
Concluded Tuesday  19 November 2019

The fresh Inquest into the death of 14 year old Wakefield schoolgirl Elsie Frost who was murdered on 9 October 1965 concluded on 19 November 2019. This historic inquest was the culmination of decades of the Frost family’s campaign to achieve justice for Elsie.

Since 1966 there was no active police investigation until their campaign persuaded West Yorkshire Police to conduct a thorough cold case review, which was then able to identify a suspect who the head of the investigation DCSI Wallen said under oath that he had no doubt murdered Elsie Frost. That man was Peter Pickering who died in March 2018 serving a life sentence for the 1972 killing of Shirley Ann Boldy. 

The inquest heard that at the time of Elsie’s murder Pickering, referred to as The Beast of Wombwell, was wanted by the police for two serious sexual offences against two 16 year old girls in the North Yorkshire area. The inquest also heard that in the days before Elsie’s murder Pickering had written an angry letter to his then girlfriend who had retracted an alibi in relation to those earlier offences, which the Coroner noted demonstrated Pickering being in a state of rage and the police interpreted that letter to be indicative of his intention to kill a stranger. 

Evidence given by DCSI Wallen stated that the 1965 investigating team received intelligence to suggest that Pickering should be considered as a potential suspect in Elsie’s murder, however they were unable to apprehend him as he was currently on the run from the earlier offences, despite an extensive man hunt by the West Riding Police force.

It was also stated that by the time of Pickering’s apprehension on 31 December 1965 the City of Wakefield Police had already built a case around Ian Bernard Spencer and all other lines of enquiry were halted. Mr Spencer was subsequently fully exonerated by both the Magistrates Court and the Assizes Court in 1966 and again in the High Court in 2019 when they quashed the original inquisition. Even after his exoneration in 1966 the police failed to pursue any other line of enquiry until 2015.

In the evidence before the Coroner and in his summing up the Court heard the evidence gathered by the Operation Plainlake team that supported the contention that Peter Pickering was responsible for Elsie’s murder. This evidence was thoroughly scrutinised by the Coroner and DCSI Wallen still maintained that there was no doubt in his mind that Peter Pickering was guilty. Although the family have always accepted the inquest could not determine Pickering’s guilt they are grateful for the careful assessment of the evidence available and hope now that the public can make its own mind up. 

Colin and Anne, Elsie’s younger brother and older sister say the following:

“We would like to thank Mr McLoughlin for his sensitive words about Elsie and the subsequent setting out of the facts of Elsie’s case. This inquest has as we hoped afforded the scrutiny we wanted on the evidence gathered by the Operation Plainlake team since 2015. We have fought for justice for Elsie and the clearing of Ian Spencer’s name and we are incredibly happy to have achieved one out of two of these objectives. The lingering spectre of suspicion has quite rightly been lifted for the Spencer family. 

"However, to achieve true justice for Elsie would have been to see Peter Pickering stand trial in the Crown Court. This can never happen and it will always leave us with some sadness. People ask us whether this inquest will give us the closure that we need. We will never truly achieve closure as there will always be one piece of the jigsaw missing due to Peter Pickering dying before being brought before a jury. 

"We would like to thank our legal team of Anna Morris from Garden Court Chambers, and Gemma Vine of Minton Morrill, Leeds and would also like to thank DCSI Wallen for his candid disclosure of the failings of the 1965/1966 police investigation and our thanks for the  hard work of the Operation Plainlake team,  we don’t think we could have asked for more from them or from this fresh inquest.” 

The inquest was reported on by the media, including in the BBC.

Anna Morris is a member of the Garden Court Inquests and Inquiries Team.

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