'Crossbow cannibal' Briton in court over prostitutes' killings

28th May 2010, Comments 0 comments

A British man accused of murdering three prostitutes described himself as the "crossbow cannibal" Friday, as he appeared in court charged with the killings.

Stephen Griffiths, 40, is accused of murdering 36-year-old Suzanne Blamires, who went missing last Friday, Shelley Armitage, 31, who has been missing since last month, and Susan Rushworth, 43, who disappeared last June.

Dressed in a black shirt and navy blue jeans, Griffiths made a brief appearance at Bradford Magistrates' Court to be formally charged.

Asked to confirm his name, he said "the crossbow cannibal" -- an apparent reference to recent newspaper reports on the case.

Asked for his address, he scratched his head and replied: "Erm ... here I guess."

Griffiths, reportedly a psychology graduate researching criminology, was arrested on Monday at his home on the edge of the city's red-light district.

He was charged on Thursday, several hours after police identified that human remains found in a river earlier this week were from one of the missing women, Blamires. The bodies of the other two have not been found.

Police divers returned to the river in Shipley, near Bradford, on Friday and carried out a meticulous search of the river bed.

Prime Minister David Cameron, who was making a speech in the nearby Leeds area, said the case was "truly terrible."

"I just hope that police do everything they can to find those that are missing (and that) we make sure this case goes to court as fast as possible," he told local BBC television.

The killings in Bradford, an industrial city in Yorkshire in northern England, have evoked memories of the infamous "Yorkshire Ripper", Peter Sutcliffe, who murdered 13 women in the 1970s.

Griffiths was fast-tracked to appear at the city's Crown Court later in the day, where he sat clasping his hands and with his head bowed throughout most of the five-minute hearing, speaking only to confirm his name to a clerk.

Judge James Goss told Griffiths his next court appearance would be via video link from jail, and adjourned the case until June 7.

Relatives of some of the victims attended the first court hearing and some wiped away tears as the brief proceedings got under way.

After the hearing, many family members hid their faces as they were driven away from the court by police officers.

Blamires' mother, Nicky, described her daughter as "bright and articulate" and said she was training to be a nurse.

"Unfortunately my daughter went down the wrong path and she did not have the life she was meant to have," she said. "She was a much-loved daughter, sister and niece and what has happened to her will haunt me to the day I die."

She added: "At the end of the day nobody deserves this. All these girls were human beings and people's daughters."

Armitage's daughter Kirsty said of her mother: "Even though she used to take drugs and stuff, my friends always used to have a laugh with her and she'd give her right arm to anybody.

"She wasn't like all these other druggies. She was just completely different. She was like a sister more than a mum."

"Yorkshire Ripper" Sutcliffe, jailed for life in 1981 for killing 13 women and the attempted murder of seven, began a judicial bid to be freed in March. The 63-year-old is being held at the high-security Broadmoor Hospital, west of London.

In 2008 a forklift truck driver, Steve Wright, was convicted of the murders of five prostitutes in Ipswich, eastern England, two years earlier.

Cameron added: "I'm sure that people in the Leeds area will want to learn the lessons of what happened in Ipswich... after those terrible killings where the police did try new approaches."

"The first step is learn the lessons of what has worked elsewhere," he said, citing tougher action on curb crawling and drug abuse, helping prostitutes out of the sex industry and boosting coordination between different social agencies.

"That would be a good start," he said.

© 2010 AFP

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