Chapter 26 – The British Press
Meanwhile 40 miles away in London, Cathy Murphy was alone in her tenth floor luxury apartment in London’s Canary Wharf. She was sitting propped up in bed, still in her Harrods silk pyjamas. The widescreen television in her bedroom was showing a live Sky news report from an outside broadcast unit on Hazeley Common in Hampshire.
Cathy was a journalist at the Daily and the Sunday Chronicle, Britain’s largest selling newspaper. She was 34, single and in love with her job. Today she was feeling very pleased with herself. Her scoop was now the talk of the town. That morning the Sunday Chronicle had been able to steal a march on its rivals by publishing the gruesome details of the double murder on Hazeley Common.
Her large king size bed was strewn with copies of all the Sunday papers, but her front page story was visible on the paper that sat pride of place in the centre of her bed, folded neatly to expose the headline:
Beheading in Hampshire
Cathy had lowered the volume of the television, because she was chatting to her assistant Martha on Skype using her Apple laptop. Cathy finished the last bite of her toasted crumpet with honey, her Sunday morning breakfast-in-bed treat, and reached for her mug of tea. As she did so, Martha reached for her own mug of coffee and the two women toasted each other virtually through their video link.
‘You did it girl’, Martha said. The tinny loudspeakers still clearly relayed her Scottish accent. Martha was also single and lived in a much more modest flat than Cathy’s up-market apartment in London’s Pimlico. She had been Cathy’s mentor ever since Cathy had joined the Chronicle some 11 years ago after completing her Master’s degree at Imperial College London. Now Martha was Cathy’s full time assistant.
Martha was in her early fifties, just 5 feet 2 inches tall, she had a stocky build, and looked like everyone’s ideal Grandmother. To many of the hacks around the office, Martha reminded them of Mrs Doubtfire. The character that Dustin Hoffman had played in the movie of the same name when he dressed as a middle aged woman. To Cathy, Martha was not only her best friend, but also in many ways the mother figure she craved. Both her parents were now dead, and she had an elder brother she would rarely see. To Martha, Cathy was the daughter she never had. Martha had never married, there had been someone once, but it had not worked out, and as she often put it now, she was too old to bother.
Cathy said into her webcam, ‘I have got Sky news on, and they are talking about the beheading now.’
Martha replied, ‘Yes but I saw the Hampshire Chief Constable earlier and he avoided the question when asked about it. Seems the Police are still a bit upset the news it out?’
The truth was the reason that two women were still in their respective abodes at this relatively late hour on a Sunday morning, was because they were lying low. Exposing the beheading story had taken some doing, and all their cunning and ingenuity. Not to mention a little sailing close to the wind, legally and ethically. Martha’s matronly grandmother appearance, meant that she couldn’t have looked less like a typical journalist. They had used this to maximum effect, in what they called a ‘Tea and Symphony’ mission.
When they news broke yesterday afternoon about the murders, the Chronicle’s Editor had assigned Cathy the story. The Sunday Chronicle was the biggest selling edition of the paper of the week, and Saturday afternoons the busiest time of the week. Cathy had sent a cub reporter to Hazeley Common driven on the back of a fast motorbike, Martha had been driven to Hampshire in a chauffeur driven car. The cub reporters job was to relay back all the facts he could find out from the Police operation at Hazeley Common, direct to Cathy in the Chronicle’s office in Wapping, London. This included, some information that seemed trivial at the time, the name of the unfortunate young girl who had discovered the bodies of the murdered women. Within minutes of her details arriving, the research team at Wapping had prepared a full profile of the girl. Martha read the profile on her phone while she waited in a chauffeur driven car outside Basingstoke Police Station. Her name was Abby Painter and she was 19 years old, she lived with her parents at an address in Hartley Wintney. There were several pictures of her, mostly from Facebook, She was a pretty girl with short blond hair.
The journalists knew that the Police had no resources to take these witnesses home. Presently the girl emerged from the front of the Police station, Martha stepped out of the car leaving the door open, and walked up to the girl, placing a motherly arm around her shoulders. Gently she said in her believable Scottish drawl, ‘Abby I am sure that was a horrible experience, I have a car to take you home to Hartley Wintney.’
The girl was too frightened, confused and upset to resist. She assumed that this kindly lady was part of the Police operation, and was here to take her home. She knew her name and where she wanted to go after all. The driver held the door for them and they got into the back seat, there was water and snacks. She had never been in a car this posh before.
The lady introduced herself as Martha, and said the driver already knew her address. She said, ‘drive on Constable.’
This was a clever ruse. The drivers name was in fact John Constable, but he was normally called JC. Also, he was an ex-Police Officer. But a tired and emotional girl, may have assumed that he was a serving Police Officer. A thin line, because it is criminal offence in Britain to impersonate a Police Officer.
The state-of-the-art microphones captured all of the conversation in the car, and state-of-the-art software removed the background noise. With the aid of sympathetic hand on hers, a kindly drink of cool water, and some Kleenex, the details of the arrow and decapitating emerged in gory details in the 20 minute car journey.
Cathy heard Martha say, ’it must have been awful to find those bodies like that?’
Then the teenagers voice, ‘there was like blood everywhere, it was like pools of it, especially from her neck. Her head was like lying in a puddle of it’.
Two thoughts hit Cathy as the same time as she listened in, first this was clearly a very gruesome murder and was probably going to take the story from a news story on page 5 to possibly the front page, and secondly how irritating was the current teenage fashion of using the word like all the time.
Martha hid her shock at the revelation about the head, but cunningly prompted Abby to continue by asking, ‘how horrible, what did you do?’
‘Well like the head was like miles from the body, and her neck was just like gross, with bone and guts and like blood everywhere. I didn’t know what to do, I called my Mum but she was like out, so I called 999 and like the Police came …’
Abby began to sob, and Martha cuddled her, supplying tissues and telling her she had done very well.
Cathy realised she had the headline and began framing the story as she listened in to rest of the conversation in the car.
When they arrived at the Abby’s address, JC pulled neatly up to the kerb outside. It was a non-descript street of suburban houses. As they pulled up a woman appeared at the front door who from her similar appearance was obviously Abby’s mother. JC stepped out of the car and waived at the woman, she waived back, she assumed this was an official car bringing Abby home. Expensive cars like this were rarely seen on this street.
As the girl was about to step out of the car, and with JC standing poised to open the door for her. Martha produced a neat bundle of £20 notes. She said, ‘a little something for helping us, Oh would you mind signing a receipt? I do get in such trouble with my boss if I don’t do the proper paperwork.’
Abby was over the moon to be given money, she signed without question. Of course there was some legal small print on the receipt which she never read. Abby ran up to her mother, overjoyed at being home. JC pulled away swiftly, not wanting Abby or her mother to ask any more questions. Martha waived goodbye from the back seat, but Abby was too engrossed in a conversation with her mother to look in the direction of the car. She held the bank notes in her hand, and was showing her mother the money.
Cathy had been listening throughout through headphones while sat at her desk in London. She smiled wryly at Martha’s ‘boss and paperwork’ line. It had been delivered so sweetly. The enhanced sound quality meant she could hear the bank notes being handed over. The £200 was well spent she thought.
They had found that £100 was too little. At that level some of the ‘Tea and Sympathy’ targets want to give the money back when they realised they had been duped, but £200 was more than they wanted to part with. It was also not enough to be considered a bribe, or as they said in the tabloid world these days ‘a bung’.
Cathy hummed an Elton John song as she typed the headline and the story for her Editor to review:
Beheading in Hampshire
Gory details have emerged of the double Murder in Hampshire yesterday. One victim was beheaded while the other had an arrow in her heart …