April 20, 2024


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Tragic Christopher Laverack cold case murder and the house brick that proved key

It was one of Hull’s most tragic and notorious cases and also one that left Humberside Police frustrated for years.

But the face of Christopher Laverack made headlines around the world when he was sexually assaulted and murdered in a case which shocked Hull in the 1980s. Nine-year-old Christopher’s body was found floating in Beverley Beck and wrapped in a carpet bag filled with bricks on March 11, 1984.

Just two days before, the innocent Anlaby youngster had kissed his mum Pam Cawley goodbye and gone to see his sister in Harpham Grove, off Preston Road in east Hull. Little did she know she would never see her little boy again after he was abducted, killed and thrown in a stream.

Read more: Christopher Laverack killer Melvyn Read: The child killer who took his secrets to the grave

A new podcast has now been launched which looks at how forensics have unlocked some of the world’s most perplexing cases with often the most innocuous items key to solving the crime. And the first episode centres on Christopher’s tragic case which still resonates in the city.

The new podcast is narrated by BAFTA-nominated actress Romola Garai and the head of the British Institute of Forensic Sciences Tracy Alexander. Listeners will hear how these key pieces of evidence – everything from a mosquito to a Chinese meal – have helped reveal the answers to previously unsolvable cases.

In Christopher’s case, it was a simple house brick that held key evidence needed to identify the boy’s killer.

Christopher Laverack was nine when he was killed in 1984
Christopher Laverack was nine when he was killed in 1984

Tracy Alexander said: “Forensic science is an often misunderstood discipline and can be used in so many fascinating ways to identify suspects and provide the evidence for use in court. I’m thrilled to be a part of this series which can give listeners a real insight into how science is used to aid investigations – and reveal that no matter how clever or cunning a killer might be – there will always be some evidence of their crimes.”

Christopher’s case was a harrowing one. He had been sexually abused and beaten to death with a blunt object and despite Humberside Police’s best efforts, it took them 28 years to pin down the person responsible. By the time they did, it was too late for him to face justice.

Melvyn Read – Christopher’s “loveable” uncle who posed in family pictures with the tragic youngster and even accompanied relatives to identify his body – was the prime suspect from an early stage.

However, despite the suspicions of police, Read’s involvement went undetected for 17 years until 2001, when several boys accused him of sexual abuse. He was arrested and locked up for seven and a half years in 2003 for those offences and, in the same year, police built up a case against him for Christopher’s murder.

Police divers searching Holderness Drain near Flinton Grove
Police divers searching Holderness Drain near Flinton Grove

In 1984 he lived in Grantley Grove, Hull, a 10-minute walk from Harpham Grove, and he also owned a car that fitted the description of a vehicle seen outside Harpham Grove the night Christopher disappeared.

He did not have a meaningful alibi for the night in question and he had knowledge of the site where Christopher’s body was found, having worked at a Beckside factory. He had the means and motive to commit the crime. However, a lack of hard evidence meant they were unable to charge him with his nephew’s murder.

Detective Inspector Conrad Owen, who started investigating Read in 2001, said: “All of Read’s offending against his victims was after Christopher Laverack’s murder, which shows Read was seen as a dependable, trustworthy character.

“He succeeded in deceiving four sets of parents into thinking he was a ‘loveable uncle’ character and he managed to pull that off until things started to fall apart in 2001. Then one allegation just came after another.”

Melvyn Read died in prison in 2008 and wasn't confirmed as Christopher's killer until four years later
Melvyn Read died in prison in 2008 and wasn’t confirmed as Christopher’s killer until four years later

Five years later, Humberside Police arrested Read on suspicion of murdering Christopher after putting together circumstantial evidence which linked him to the killing. It had been 22 years since Christopher’s death and police finally thought they had cracked the case.

But detectives didn’t have enough forensic evidence for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to charge him, meaning the family’s wait for justice went on. Read died in prison in 2008 and it was in this year that his identity was made public.

Despite his death, Humberside Police was still desperate to crack the cold case, and a team of nine detectives was given the unenviable task of piecing together the forensic evidence they needed to finally nail Christopher’s killer.

Detective Superintendent Ray Higgins said: “We had all the bad character evidence in terms of his propensity to offend and we had a reasonable circumstantial case against him. What we needed was the forensic evidence – the glue that would hold it all together.

“We went through every single exhibit and article that had been recovered and they were all looked at again for DNA or anything that could help. But the body had been dumped in water and had been in there for a couple of days, so opportunities to harness DNA were diminished. It was a case of looking for another way.”

Police officers manning the phones in the incident room at Tower Grange police station in the search for Christopher Laverack.
Police officers manning the phones in the incident room at Tower Grange police station in the search for Christopher Laverack.

The crucial evidence was to come from forensic ecolologist Patricia Wiltshire, who linked pollen found on the jeans and trainers Christopher had been wearing to Read’s garden in Grantley Grove. She also proved an ornamental brick used to weigh down the bag Christopher’s body was found in had come from Read’s garden with detectives also confident this brick was used as the murder weapon.

Det Supt Higgins said at the time: “What we were looking for was a link between the brick found in the body bag and the suspect’s garden and whether there was any possibility of tracing pollen that might also link Christopher to Read’s garden. We gave her access to all the samples we had recovered, including soil from sites across Hull, the house at Harpham Grove, Grantley Grove and she came up with detailed findings.

“These showed conclusively the brick had emanated from the address at Grantley Grove and Christopher’s clothing had also been in contact with pollens from the garden. The pollen was on the front of his clothing and the soles of his shoes, so this shows at one point he had clearly been standing in the garden and, latterly, was face down in the garden. We knew at that point we had enough.”

After reviewing all the evidence, Det Supt Higgins was able to put together a picture of the night Christopher murdered. He discovered that Christopher had got to Grantley Grove where Read lived before being sexually abused and killed.

Det Supt Higgins said: “His clothing had been interfered with, his jeans were undone and his trainers were undone and there was a bite mark on his buttock, which was similar to Read’s other victims. It seems something has happened that resulted in him being outside in the back garden. We would say he has been murdered there with a brick from the pond, which was then used to weigh the bag down. Read probably took him to the beck that night.”

Christopher’s mum was finally given the answers she had suspected for a long time in 2012 when Humberside Police categorically declared Melvyn Read as the man who had murdered his nephew Christopher Laverack decades earlier.

After explaining the force’s findings to Mrs Cawley, Dep Supt Higgins said: “She was aware of Read’s sexual offending and she understands this man was clearly the murderer. She knows his duplicity made him an expert in hiding his offending among the children. It was incredible he managed to keep it hidden for so long.”

Detectives still believe Read did not act alone but this will never be proved. However, their tenacity in continuing to dig for answers provided dividends and provided a grieving family with the answers they so desperately needed.

The ‘Smoking Gun’ podcast comes from the makers of ‘The Missing’ and ‘Body of Proof’ and the first episode featuring Christopher’s case is available now. There are ten cases explored in total and will be released weekly, every Friday and are available on most podcast platforms.

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