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Saturday, August 19, 2006 

Sun-watch: The "house of horrors", that err, wasn't.

Right from the beginning, the Sun was certain that police were going to find unimaginable horrors beneath the topsoil of 107 Walton Green, New Addington in Croydon, Surrey. A convicted paedophile, Leslie Ford-Thrussell, had lived at the property for 17 years prior to his imprisonment in 2004. A letter sent to the house 12 months ago, written according to the Sun by the brother of a man it alleges helped Ford-Thrussell run a paedophile ring from the property, claimed that two children had been buried there 35 years ago.

If there's one thing that the Sun newspaper loves, it's a crime involving children and sex, with a nice splash of death thrown in. Coming in the middle of the silly season, hacks at the paper were no doubt rubbing their hands with glee at the possibility that they might well have something meaty to sink their teeth into, as well as helping with their constant war against the sick, evil paedo-perverts that lurk around every street corner. It seems that the paper has learned very little from the case of
Rochelle Holness, which led to her parents calling the Sun's behaviour as inhumane as that of her killer.

The Sun wasted no time in drawing grim parallels with their exclusive, once they had revealed that the house was at the centre of what they called a "murder probe".
Fred West, the serial killer who lived at 25 Cromwell Street in Gloucester, notoriously burying 9 of his victims beneath the cellar and patio garden of his house, was quickly brought in to the frame, reminding readers of what police might find once they started digging. A "local source", in an article by the Sun's crime editor Mike Sullivan, said “It’ll be the talk of the estate for days and years to come.” That seems quite likely, but not for the reasons the Sun and "the source" were thinking. A follow-up article referred to the property directly as the "house of horrors", the same expression which came to be used when referring to the home of Fred and Rosemary West.

Even the announcement by detective chief inspector Mark Stockford, who was heading the inquiry, that they had established that Ford-Thrussell had not been living at the address at the time when the murders were said to be committed didn't dampen the Sun's enthusiasm for its exclusive. The police had also trawled through records of children that had gone missing at the time, without finding any that could have been linked to the "House of Horrors". This might have sent alarm bells ringing at any other newspaper, but apparently not at the Sun. That Stockford seemed uncertain before even ordering the digging of the garden as to whether any crime had been committed ought to have perhaps signaled that a toning down in the hysteria of the coverage might be necessary. None was forthcoming.

It may then have come as something of a shock to the Sun journos covering the story and to the wider public
that the police yesterday abandoned the search, saying they were satisfied there are no human remains there, and that they would not be returning to the garden. The house may have once been the base of a paedophile ring, and in that sense can be described as a "house of horrors"; the garden however has no such sickening secrets.

The Guardian today reported the end of the dig with a small item from the Press Association on the 10th page. As for the Sun, it appears that there was no room in the newspaper for the truth about the non-existent garden of horrors. If they were pressed for space, or if the news came too late for the newspaper itself, there's also no mention of the apparent end of the inquiry on the Sun's website. Surely some mistake?

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