I am Crossbow Cannibal, murder suspect tells court
All eyes were fixed on the black-shirted unshaven figure as he stood in the dock before a Bradford district judge yesterday.
Touching his short dark hair absent-mindedly, his gaze shifting from the floor to the bench, Stephen Griffiths was asked to confirm his name. "The crossbow cannibal," he replied. And his address, inquired the clerk? "Here, I guess," he said.
The bizarre answers to the formal questions required of defendants passing through the English magistrate system brought a gasp of disbelief from at least one member of the public gallery. Family members of the mature student's alleged victims had crowded into court to see for themselves the man accused of murdering local sex workers Suzanne Blamires, Shelley Armitage and grandmother Susan Rushworth. As proceedings got under way several wiped away tears while others craned their heads to watch him, their expressions blank.
After being remanded in custody in a second brief hearing at Bradford Crown Court held before a judge later in the day, Mr Griffiths, a former public schoolboy who has a degree in psychology and was studying for a PhD in criminology, was driven away to Wakefield Prison, home to some of the country's most notorious criminals. Angry crowds shouted "dirty rat" as the vehicle sped from the precinct.
Mr Griffiths was arrested on Monday after police were called to his flat by a caretaker who had seen CCTV images of a woman allegedly being attacked with a crossbow. He was charged with three murders on Thursday.
There was no application for bail at the second hearing in which Mr Griffiths appeared, flanked by three officers behind security glass, once again under the gaze of the victims' families. As legal discussions were held he sat with his hands clasped together and his head bowed. The 40-year-old was ordered to stand by Judge James Goss QC and to confirm he was Stephen Shaun Griffiths. This time he replied simply: "I am". He nodded in understanding when he was told that he would not be required to appear at the next hearing scheduled for 7 June but instead would be connected to proceedings via video link from prison.
Across the city searches were continuing yesterday in the hunt for the bodies of Ms Armitage and Ms Rushworth. Around Mr Griffiths' flat, where he had lived for 13 years on the edge of Bradford's red light district, a dozen floral tributes had built up in memory of the women. One message read: "For our special daughter Shelley. Good night. God bless. Mum and Dad."
Officers with dogs trained to hunt for bodies combed alleyways and searched drains while large areas remained sealed off as experts carried away objects in sealed plastic bags for further analysis. Searches are expected to last a further three weeks. Forensic teams were also continuing to hunt for clues in the River Aire at nearby Shipley where the dismembered body of Ms Blamires was discovered on Tuesday.
Her mother, Nicky Blamires, 55, described her daughter as a "bright and articulate" woman who went to college and was training to be a nurse. "Unfortunately my daughter went down the wrong path and she did not have the life she was meant to have," she said.
Kirsty Rushworth, daughter of Ms Rushworth, a mother of three, said: "Even though she used to take drugs and stuff, my friends always used to have a laugh with her and she'd give her right arm to anybody.
"She wasn't like all these other druggies. She was just completely different. She was like a sister more than a mum."
Mr Griffiths is charged with murdering Ms Blamires between 20 May and 25 May; murdering Ms Rushworth between 22 June 2009 and 25 May this year, and murdering Ms Armitage between 25 April and 25 May this year. He is being represented by solicitors Lumb and Macgill, the same firm which has represented Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe in the past.
Police are adamant they are not linking the alleged murders to any other missing persons or inquiries.