The judge called him “a vulture” and it was a perfect description of this non-descript man in a grey sweatshirt, his balding head dipped, eyes peering at her through narrow glasses.
He had hidden behind that apparent normality for 34 years, but finally he was going to pay for the things he’d done in the shadows.
David Fuller had killed and raped women while they were dying. Wendy Knell was 25 when she was discovered sexually assaulted and beaten to death at her bedsit in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, in June 1987.
Five months later, Caroline Pierce, 20, went missing from her bedsit in nearby Grosvenor Park. Her body was found weeks later nearly 40 miles away on Romney Marsh.
Ms Justice Cheema-Grubb said it was likely, following the unsolved murders of two women, that a high-profile local awareness campaign prevented him from killing more: women were more on their guard.
But, not long after that, Fuller found a new way to have sex with the dead by accessing hospital mortuaries in his role as an electrician.
United in grief – and something even darker
In Maidstone’s largest courtroom, family members of victims came to confront their nightmares.
This was their moment to look at and, in some cases, talk directly to the man who had sexually abused their loved ones along with more than 100 other victims in two hospital mortuaries.
These were mothers, fathers, children or husbands of women and girls who died from road accidents, cancer, old age, sometimes suicide. They were all united in grief and something even darker.
They had all known nothing of Fuller’s crimes until police officers had knocked on their doors in October this year.
Many of them had heard the horror of what he’d done and decided they couldn’t tell other family members – it was too awful, too shameful, not how they wanted anyone to remember their loved one. They would carry the burden alone.
A huge well of anger and despair came into that courtroom – but with it came courage.
For just this one moment, that pain was going to be given an outlet. If they could bear to face him – to look at the man who haunted them – they could read impact statements in the witness box and speak to Fuller directly.
‘You raped my baby… I feel guilty I left her there’
“David…” said the first mother to take the stand. It was perhaps the most powerful moment I’ve seen in a court room. Fuller, who’d been looking at the floor up until that moment now looked at her. “… you know who I am because you read the letter I wrote to my baby”.
Fuller looked on. She looked back. This was the mother of Fuller’s youngest victim, a nine-year-old girl. She’d been going to the mortuary to be with her daughter every day, including on Christmas Day, and would dress her and brush her hair and leave toys for her to play with.
But now she could only think about what happened when she left the mortuary – that Fuller would enter the room, remove the toys and the clothes, and abuse her daughter. All the things she’d done to comfort herself – to come to terms with her daughter dying so young from medical complications – were destroyed. Now she couldn’t escape the image of what Fuller had done.
“I can’t say much of what I want to say to you,” she said, adding: “You raped my baby.”
But then she told him. “She couldn’t say no to the dirty 66-year-old man who was abusing her body. I feel guilty I left her there.
“I will not enjoy my life again. Her death was unfair and heart-breaking, but it was a natural thing that I was starting to come to terms with. This unnatural sick pain I will never get over.”
‘You are the absolute worst of humanity’
Fuller sometimes nodded, seemingly in recognition – though the judge would later say he’d still shown no remorse.
And as this mother bravely continued, even police officers were crying, and the family members next to me crumpled because those words reflected exactly how they were feeling.
“I don’t know how I’m going to carry on – the guilt I feel because I left her in that hospital,” the mother added. “How will I make it up to her? My precious final moments with her which used to bring me comfort now turn my stomach.”
The stories that followed had similar themes: incomprehension, an inability to sleep, rage at the “entitlement” Fuller gave himself.
“He didn’t just violate my sister, he violated all of us,” a woman said. “His misogyny and depravity are breathtaking.”
A son told the court: “The news shocked me to the core – the thought of what this man did to my mother will never go away. When I think of my mother I think of this man. The crime he committed is simply beyond my understanding.”
Family members talked of “memories stolen” and being “polluted”. They had been “gripped by numbness” and had lost faith in their own sense of security.
One sister told Fuller he had made her realise that “monsters are very real”.
She added: “You are the absolute worst of humanity.”
One husband, having read a statement from his son, told Fuller he should be thankful he wasn’t sharing a cell with him.
Many in the room nodded, and perhaps for that moment Fuller was grateful to be sat in his glass box flanked by police officers.
‘Three months? For three rapes?’
Despite all of the hurt and grief Fuller has caused, committing his crimes unseen for over three decades, with victims ranging from nine to 100 years old, filming what he’d done, keeping a “catalogue of depravity” on hard drives, one of which had over 800,000 images of abuse – despite all of this, the judge was only able to give him a sentence of 12 years for these accumulated crimes and a chunk of that was because he also had the most appalling child abuse images on his computer.
What was hardest for many to stomach was when, for one count which involved several dead victims, the crime for each individual victim was given a term of just three months. At this point a man whose dead autistic daughter had been raped by Fuller walked out of the courtroom.
“Wait,” said his wife, who hadn’t left the house since she’d heard the news other than to come to the court room. But he pushed past us. “Disgraceful,” he muttered.
I was sat next to Nevres Kemal, a friend who I’d come to support. Her daughter, Azra, had been raped three times by Fuller in the mortuary. “Three months?” she said in my ear. “For three rapes? Is that all Azra is worth?”
But Ms Kemal knows the judge is tied by the limitations of the law. Later she addressed news cameras outside.
“This is not fair and just,” she said. “It is not acceptable. She was worth more than that. People who sell drugs or have class A drugs on them have a larger sentence.
“It’s a disgrace and I’m more than disappointed, but our Lady Justice is a superstar. I heard her, I watched her. She is an incredible woman, and she delivered what she could. But the law has to change.”
Victims’ families want answers
What seems important too is that the events that allowed Fuller to commit his crimes are properly looked at. This isn’t a one off. I just need to say the name Jimmy Savile. The TV star gained access to Stoke Mandeville Hospital Mortuary and did the same. People who want to do these kinds of things find ways.
Even though no one wants to get into their minds, we must think like them to be one step ahead. Better that than police officers spending months, as they did with Fuller, watching his videoed actions so that they could identify his victims and catalogue his years of depravity.
The families want a statutory inquiry with the powers to compel witnesses to give evidence, and they want to be involved in setting out the terms of reference. It’s not clear yet whether that is happening. They are also uncomfortable with the man appointed by the hospital to investigate what happened – Sir Jonathan Michael – also being the person appointed to continue with the government inquiry.
Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Sajid Javid said: “This is a profoundly distressing case. While nothing can undo the damage that has been done, David Fuller has today been brought to justice for his unspeakable crimes.
“I would like to reiterate my apologies to the friends and families of all the victims for what took place. We are taking action to ensure nothing like this ever happens again.
“First, NHS England and Improvement have received assurance from all NHS Trusts that they have undertaken risk assessments on their mortuary and body storage facilities, and checked their practices are in line with existing Human Tissue Authority guidance.
“Second, we have made good progress in establishing the independent inquiry. The chair, Sir Jonathan Michael, has developed draft terms of reference and will engage with families on them in the new year before they are published.”
Everyone is relieved that David Fuller will die in prison because of the murders he committed, and it is appalling for the families of the two murdered women that after 34 years of not knowing, when they finally got closure, a whole other world of horror was opened. Families of the mortuary victims respectfully acknowledged this in their statements.
But consider this: if Fuller had only been caught for the decades of abuse in the mortuaries, he would be up for parole in six years’ time.
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