No one who remembers the Moors murders, which ended with Ian Brady and Myra Hindley being sentenced to life imprisonment for the child killings in 1966, will dispute that they were the most shocking criminal case of that era – not least because the trial followed soon after the abolition of the death penalty in Britain. Almost 50 years on, however, it is debatable whether the case really remains the uniquely virulent national obsession it once was.
The more honest reality is that, with the passage of time and after the death of Hindley a decade ago, the Moors murders are finally passing inexorably below the collective horizon. The case would not receive so much attention any longer were it not for the efforts of a mutually dependent carousel linking the murderers, the media, the police, the victims’ families and successive home secretaries to keep it in the spotlight – arguably to no public benefit.
This week’s claims that Brady, now 74 and permanently detained in a special hospital, may have identified the grave site of his last undiscovered victim, Keith Bennett, follow a familiar pattern. A media organisation, in this case Channel 4′s Cutting Edge documentary series, gets a sniff of a new Brady angle on the Moors story, contacts the victims’ families, gets the police involved, and starts the ball rolling again. As so often, the flurry of activity takes place shortly before another legal twist in the saga, in this case Brady’s application to be transferred to a Scottish prison and be allowed to die, an event that may in turn tempt a new generation of headline-seeking ministers to blunder into the case.
As often happens in Moors stories, the publicity means things have now got out of hand. Not for the first time, Greater Manchester police have allowed the case’s notoriety to go to their heads and sway their judgment, by arresting Brady’s mental health advocate under an inappropriate common law power, interfering with her private communications with her client, and wrongly stating that they have a duty to investigate and implying they would dig for remains if useful information came to light. Inevitably, Keith’s surviving relatives – his mother is in a hospice – have been disturbed by the whole affair.
This is simply misguided and even cruel, especially so if the chain has been set in motion by Brady himself. There is no overriding public interest in continuing to pursue this long solved case, especially when one murderer is dead and the other is in prison for ever. The police simply have better things to do. The relatives need support in better ways. Nothing is solved and nothing is gained by continuing to dig over this horrible case in this way any longer.