On Christmas eve 1995, Louise Smith left home with her friends to go to a local nightclub, and did not return home. On Christmas day, Louise's family reported to the police that she had not returned home, and thus began a difficult and protracted investigation. A search was conducted for Louise and more than 10,000 local people took part. The fact that so many people turned out showed the strength of feeling in the community, the solidarity with Robert and Gill Smith--Louise's parents--the sense that any parent would dread to be in the same situation and the desire simply to do something to help
Sadly, Louise was not found, and the agony and uncertainty went on until the middle of February 1996, when two boys playing in a local quarry discovered Louise's body, which had been carefully hidden, she had been abuducted, raped and murdered. The police inferred from that and other circumstances, that the murderer was a local man, or certainly a man with strong local connections. Thus began a murder hunt which was to last for many months.
As the body had been found and despite the circumstances, it was possible to obtain a DNA sample, although it was some eight weeks after Louise had died. As a result, Avon and Somerset police felt that they were able to use DNA methods to try to track down the killer.
A number of people recognised a photofit of the suspect that was issued, and a DNA test was undertaken on that person. The DNA test proved innocence. In other words, someone who, under other circumstances, might have been pursued by the police, was eliminated from their inquiries early on. By April 1996, 400 DNA tests had been carried out on local men. By November 1996, that figure had reached 2,000, and, by Easter 1997, more than 4,500 DNA samples had been taken from local men who had volunteered, if only to be eliminated from inquiries.
In March 1997, David Frost was swabbed for a DNA sample, not locally, but in South Africa. He was a local man, but was in South Africa. The DNA samples matched. He came back to the United Kingdom, was arrested at Heathrow airport in April 1997 and was charged with murder. In the way of these things, it was not until February 1998 that the case came to court. At the last minute, he changed his plea to guilty, and he was sentenced to 14 years on a tariff.
The murder inquiry had become one of the largest ever inquiries conducted in Avon and Somerset and as a whole cost well over £1 million. It involved the largest ever intelligence led mass screen with more than 4,500 swabs taken. Each individual swab costs £37.50 to analyse. Added to that were the costs of cool boxes, polaroid film, fingerprint examinations and cameras, and the cost came to about £41 per item. When that is multiplied by more than 4,500 swabs, the cost was between £200,000 and £250,000. Louise’s family were dismayed to learn that all that police time, money and effort, although it helped to identify the killer, resulted in the swabs and the information being destroyed. They could not be used by the police in other inquiries at the same time, or in subsequent inquiries.
With the backing of a local newspaper, Louise’ parents Gill and Robert, launched a petition, which was presented to the House. . The petition pointed out the waste of police and public time and money if samples are destroyed. The petition called upon the House of Commons to seek amendment of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.
There was huge local support for the family and the campaign and more than 9,000 local residents, principally from the Yate/Chipping Sodbury area, but also from around the country, signed the petition. This was a complex and sensitive issue, and the family spent many days in shopping centres, gathering petitions. They have gone over the matter again and again because they feel passionately that something is wrong.
Through dreadful circumstances, Gill and Robert have tried to seek the good and the positive. They have behaved with dignity throughout. Since Louise's death, the family have tried to support and help the police in dealing with the victims of crime. Their experience was that the police were supportive and helpful but that they were inexperienced and did not necessarily know how to handle people who had suffered the death of someone close to them.
In October 1998, 22 year old JennyKing was murdered in Kingswood, Bristol, less than a mile form her home, as she too walked home from a nightclub.
In August 2000, in response to the murders of Jenny and Louise, The Bristol Evening news, following consultation with Ray King (Jenny’s father) and Robert Smith and Avon and Somerset police, launched CLUBSAFE. The aim was to protect women by mking then aware of the potential dangers when going home after a night out.
Local clubs displayed ‘Don’t’ walk home alone’ posters, provided a freephone for women to call a taxi and have a sesignated area for them to wait rather than on the street. Six private hire firms participated in the scheme, they dispay CLUBSAFE stickers and have a facilty for women to open an account for £20. Drivers wait untilt eh passengers are inside their homes before driving away. A local radio station broadcasts safety messages throughout the day and the door staff and Bristol City Council are responsiblef or training their staff. Avon and Somerset Police offers personl safety alarms for half price. Over 4,000 were sold during the start of the campaign.
In 2004 we were delighted to learn that Gill and Robert Smith were awarded the MBE for their DNA Campaign.