On 28 August 1981 a badly decomposed female body was found in dense undergrowth at Sutton Bank. Pioneering new techniques at the Department of Medical Illustration in Manchester were used to create a wax model of the head in an attempt to identify her. However, despite an intensive investigation, the cause of death was never established and, in one of the force’s few unsolved mysteries, her identity remains unknown.
One of the force’s busiest and most tragic years was 1982. January was a sign of things to come with serious flooding in York. River levels were 16.7 ft above normal with floodwaters also affecting Selby, Boroughbridge and Ripon.
Pope John Paul II
On a lighter note, Pope John Paul II visited York in May attracting around 210,000 people to Knavesmire hoping to catch a glimpse of him. The police operation, which took months to plan, was a resounding success with only one arrest on the day. People showed their appreciation for the efforts of the officers involved, spontaneously applauding them as they departed.
Sadly, a month later two officers were murdered just six days apart. PC David Haigh was killed on 17 June at Norwood Edge near Harrogate, followed shortly afterwards by Sgt David Winter at Old Malton in what became known as the Prudom murders.
The murders sparked one of the biggest manhunts the country has known with more than 4,000 officers involved. Feelings of shock and outage gripped the public who were kept updated by unprecedented press coverage. The search for the killer came to a dramatic end on 4 July when Barry Prudham shot himself at Malton Tennis and Bowling Club rather than surrender to the police.
In total there were 14 murders in North Yorkshire in 1982, all of them solved.
The miner’s strike dominated 1984 with names like Riccall, Whitemoor and Gascoigne Wood becoming second nature to members of not only NYP but also officers from Greater Manchester, the Metropolitan Police and Norfolk who provided much needed support in difficult times.
On Friday 6 July there were more than 4,000 pickets at Whitemoor with a further 1,000 at North Selby. There were 57 Police Support Units each comprising 23 officers deployed to keep the strikers in check.
Officers in York will also remember 1984 for the Minster fire when a blaze started in the roof of the south transept during the early hours of 9 July, causing £3 million worth of damage.
Chief Constable Henshaw’s eventful era came to an end when he handed over to Peter Nobes in 1985.
Early on in Chief Constable Nobes’ tenure taped interviews were introduced as was the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (1984). The following year saw the birth of the Crown Prosecution Service. Further new methods were put into practice later in the year when DNA examination was used by the force for the first time. The new technique helped to trace the killer of Barry Oldham whose dismembered body was found at Clay Bank near Stokesley. William Beggs, who was convicted of the murder, was freed on a technicality following an appeal and has since been convicted of a similar offence in Scotland.
The Home Office Large Major Enquiry System or HOLMES computer was launched in December 1988 when the body of farmer’s wife Jayne Smith was discovered at Broats Farm near Malton. Her husband’s former fiancée, Yvonne Sleigtholme, was found guilty of the murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Chief Constable David Burke
Chief Constable David Burke began his new role in 1989 faced with a double murder at Catterick Garrison on new year’s day. It set the tone for a difficult year with seven murders in total including three on the same day.
On 22 April a mother and daughter were found dead at their home in Sherburn in Elmet while a youth was stabbed to death on a camp site in Scarborough. All three were solved.
In August another murder hunt and another first for the force. When Brian Newcombe murdered Ingleton pensioner, Jack Shuttleworth, he went on the run to Scotland where he also killed 55-year-old widow, Margaret McConie. It is thought that the investigation into the deaths was the first time that forces from England and Scotland had combined in a joint murder investigation under two separate legal systems. Newcombe was arrested but committed suicide in prison before he could stand trial.
A dramatic year took another twist when a pipe bomb exploded at the Penguin bookshop in York followed closely by the discovery of a suspected IRA arms cache near Scarborough. The weapons were found in the run up to the Conservative Party’s Central Council Conference at the Spa. However, thanks to increased security measures including air cover and sea patrols around the coast, the conference passed without incident.