Septic tank where body found ‘not searched’ in 1982, murder trial told

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Police searching for a missing woman in 1982 walked within yards of the septic tank where her body was found 37 years later, a murder trial has heard.

Retired pig farmer David Venables, 89, is said by prosecutors to have “got away with murder” for nearly 40 years by allegedly disposing of his wife Brenda Venables, shortly after rekindling a “long-standing affair”.

The remains of “prim and proper” Mrs Venables were found in the underground cesspit at the former marital home, Quaking House Farm, in Kempsey, Worcestershire, in 2019.

Venables later suggested to officers that Fred West may have had something to do with the disappearance.

Septic tank Kempsey
The cover of the septic tank where Mrs Venables’ remains were found (Richard Vernalls/PA)

Police officers involved in the “high-profile” search for Mrs Venables after she disappeared in May 1982 described how dogs, boats and a helicopter were used to scour local waterways, fields, woodland and farm outbuildings.

Retired West Mercia Police constable Peter Sharrock was among the search teams but told how the septic tank was apparently overlooked by those looking for 48-year-old Mrs Venables.

Mr Sharrock said he was not aware any officers searched the underground chamber, adding: “I certainly never took part in searching the septic tank.

“I walked past it to get to the river area for searches.”

He added: “Nobody mentioned searching the tank.”

He described how 2019 media coverage about the discovery of human remains triggered a memory of what he now knew to have been the cesspit.

“As soon as I saw an aerial view of the site, I remembered that I’d seen then, what I saw now.”

He added: “I recall seeing a lump of concrete in the yard of the farmhouse.

“The picture in the news showed the area now surrounded by trees and bushes.”

Other witnesses have described how the septic tank was, in 1982, in a “wild” area of the yard, overgrown with grass and strewn with rubble.

Giving evidence in the witness box, Mr Sharrock was asked by Venables’ QC Timothy Hannam about more details of the concrete-topped tank.

Mr Sharrock said: “When I saw it in the newspaper it set off a recollection in my mind.”

“How far were you from it in 1982, when you saw it?” asked Mr Hannam.

“Probably about 20 to 30 metres away,” said the retired officer.

“I was walking across grass, I can’t recall if it was in the (farmhouse) garden or in the (neighbouring) field.”

Asked why he did not go over to the septic tank, he said having grown up in “city areas”, a non-mains sewage system “wasn’t something I knew about”.

He added: “We had been directed to the woodland, and we were just on our way to that area.

“At the time, it just looked like a pad (area) of concrete and I didn’t pay it any attention.

“The word is hindsight, really.”

Venables, of Elgar Drive, Kempsey, denies murdering his wife between May 2 and May 5 1982, and the trial, scheduled to last six weeks, continues.

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