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When you think the unthinkable... Where do you turn?Inspired by tragically true stories, Sugar & Spice takes us on a roller-coaster ride across the British criminal justice system as the mother of a murdered child teams with her journalist boyfriend, a shy psychology student and a fourteen year old truant schoolboy to bring one man's reign of terror to an end.Originally published under the pen-name Saffina Desforges, Sugar & Spice has previously topped the charts in the UK, France and China. In 2011 it was the eleventh best-selling ebook in the UK.This updated 5th Anniversary Edition is available as a single read or in three parts, for hesitant readers.Because this is a re-launch under a different author name, reviews from the original may take time to filter through."Outstanding - compares well to any P.D. James novel." - An American Editor"An unsettling read with echoes of Mo Hayder." - Crimetime(dot)co(dot)ukAt once disquieting and challenging, Sugar & Spice is car-crash reading. Be warned: In Sugar & Spice not all things are nice... Inspired by a news story of a man who begged the courts to give him a longer sentence, because he knew he would harm again if released without treatment, Sugar & Spice is meticulously researched, asking the question society prefers not to have answered.When you think the unthinkable... Where do you turn?
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Sugar & Spice
When you think the unthinkable...
Where do you turn?
Fifth Anniversary Edition Part 1
Sugar & Spice Fifth Anniversary Edition Part 1
When you think the unthinkable...
Introduction to the 5th Anniversary Edition
Sugar & Spice
The Moors Murders 1863-1965
Sugar & Spice
The Soham Murders
NB: This novel has previously been published under the pen-name Saffina Desforges.
When you think the unthinkable... Where do you turn?
That was the question I came to be pondering back in the UK in the 1980s after a bizarre newspaper story caught my eye. On being sentenced to a prison term, a man had begged the Judge to jail him for longer.
Why? Because he was a child abuser who had harmed children in the past, and knew he would harm children again when he was released. He wanted help to prevent that happening.
It was a terrifying story, not so much for the man’s crimes, as for the Judge’s response.
At that time psychiatric help to deal with criminal sexual dysfunction was only available to those convicted and sentenced to imprisonment for four years or more. Sentencing guidelines meant the offences committed by this man did not permit the Judge to jail him for that long.
The man was therefore jailed for a lesser period than four years, and received no “treatment” or other support that might have helped him deal with his particular demons.
Treatment that might have helped him leave prison with some hope of leading a normal life.
Treatment that might have saved another child from abuse.
This was before the days of the internet, and I have no idea what happened later in that man’s life.
As an individual the man was forgotten. But the story was not so easy to forget.
The story was a symbol of all that was wrong with Britain’s child protection system at that time – the senselessness of a Crown Court Judge being unable to even order, let alone grant a request for, psychiatric help to someone who openly admitted they had lost control and would harm another child given the chance.
It begged the question, when you think the unthinkable... where do you turn?
It wasn’t an easy novel to write.
From day one I wanted Sugar & Spice (the title came much, much later) to be different. Yes, I wanted it to be a page-turning thriller about the hunt for a child killer.
But I also wanted it to be much more than that. I wanted to explore more fully that dark world of sexual dysfunction that drives some people to commit heinous crimes.
Two years of research went into Sugar & Spice, and the final novel included a good dose of cold-blooded reality as well as hot-blooded fiction as I sought to bring to life on paper real-life crime scenarios.
That’s not to say the events portrayed in this novel are real, although many of the references to serial killers and other sex offenders are factual.
With any reality-based fictional writing the author combines fiction and fact to create realistic characters and scenarios. And of course in fiction the author seeks to exaggerate the frequency of events and compact the time frame for dramatic effect.
In the five years since this book was first published, while a respectable number of positive, even glowing, reviews have accrued, some have said a particular scene of police brutality in Sugar & Spice would never have happened in Britain in real life. Others that the portrayal of some social workers and their attitudes to abuse victims in Sugar & Spice was totally unrealistic.
I would say, go read your social history. These things happened. These things still happen. Not exactly as described in this book, of course. This is a work of fiction.
But anyone who takes more than a passing interest in British current affairs will know police brutality, corruption, and rigging evidence to secure convictions of innocent parties, has long been part of the crime protection landscape.
One need only think of the Guildford Four or the Maguire Seven (LINK) to know that police excesses, from manipulating evidence to serious physical abuse to mock executions in the cells, happened.
And to those who would say that’s ancient history, spare a thought for this small fact. As recently as 2015 in England and Wales there were 3,000 police officers under investigation for assault. (LINK)
Also in 2015 police forces across England and Wales were ordered to review 2,000 cases of alleged police corruption as evidence came to light that previous investigations were far from satisfactory. (LINK)
And then there’s the inconvenient truth that between 2000-2015 over one thousand arrested persons died in police custody in England and Wales. (LINK)
Most police officers are of course doing a fine job, within the law, and we are all grateful for the work they do. But to pretend every single officer is an angel and there are no bad apples is to ignore reality. And would make for a rather dull story.
The same goes for social workers.
To those reviewers who slammed Sugar & Spice for its supposedly unrealistic portrayal of social workers charged with protecting children, I can only ask which remote island they live on. Children have suffered appalling abuse and often murder, thanks to social services failings that have been constant headline news.
Have they never heard of Victoria Climbié, a child burned with cigarettes, tied up for days at a time, beaten with bike chains, hammers and wires before finally being killed? All this while under the supervision of no less than four separate Social Services departments. During the trial of Victoria’s killers the Judge described the failures of the authorities to protect this girl as "blinding incompetence". (LINK)
It was no one-off. The inquiry into the death of Baby P. described “incompetent and systemic failures” by social services. (LINK)
Just two among an unending list of children (Sean Denton, Daniel Pelk...) that met their death while under the protective supervision of Social Services.
Again, let’s be absolutely clear that most social workers and most social services department do a splendid job in difficult circumstances, and we are all grateful for their efforts. But to suggest the depiction of a handful of social workers in Sugar & Spice is unrealistic and would never happen in real-life flies in the face of the evidence. Not sensationalised newspaper headlines but major government inquiries and rulings by respected judges.
By the time I finished the final draft of the book it was the mid 1990s. I found a publisher interested and there was talk of a contract.
Then Dunblane happened – the massacre of sixteen tiny children in an infants’ school in Scotland (LINK) – and Sugar & Spice was quietly shelved.
1996 was a turning point in British social history pertaining to child protection and attitudes towards sex offenders.
Child murder was nothing new, of course. The horrors of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley still hung over British society long after their arrest and conviction.
But even with that evil pair securely behind bars children still disappeared. Bodies still turned up.
Or sometimes didn’t. Some children never come home.
And some were taken from their home.
In the summer of 1995, as I was final-drafting Sugar & Spice, a seven year old girl, Sophie Hook, was abducted from a tent in her uncle’s back garden in Llandudno, North Wales. Her dreadfully abused body was found on the nearby beach the next morning. (LINK)
In this instance a man was quickly arrested, and the trial and conviction of Howard Hughes following a year later, just as the country was coming to terms with the 1996 Dunblane massacre.
The trial of Sophie’s murderer, Howard Hughes, was just one of a number of child abuse cases that surfaced throughout the year of Dunblane, culminating in the Dutroux scandal in Belgian, when the bodies of two pre-teen girls were found in a cellar. (LINK)
Prior to 1996 you would have been hard-pressed to find the word “paedophile” used anywhere except in dry, academic journals. Before 1996 was over, “paedophile” was a word on everyone’s lips, and an almost daily headline in every newspaper.
Although Sugar & Spice contains no graphic descriptions of child abuse, the subject matter was deemed too emotive for mainstream publishers as paedophile hysteria took hold across the UK.
And as more and more sick child murders and abuse scandals hit the headlines in the years that followed, with perhaps the Soham murders of Holly and Jessica by Ian Huntley the most publicized, it seemed the novel Sugar & Spice would never see the light of day.
As one editor said,
“Sometimes a book can be too well written. In Sugar & Spice the author takes the reader just so far, but then the reader’s imagination does the rest and you are reading through your fingers. In the social climate post-Soham a story like this is all but unpublishable.”
And so it seemed.
Then, in late 2010 Sugar & Spice was gently floated as an ebook, available for the public to deliver their own verdict. And for the first three months or so no-one seemed to notice. The book sold almost nothing.
Then suddenly it took off, driven by word of mouth, soaring up the Amazon UK and Waterstone’s ebook charts, selling 20,000 ebooks a month back at a time when most Brits did not even know ebooks existed.
Sugar & Spice went on to become 2011’s biggest-selling “indie” title in the UK and the eleventh biggest selling ebook in the country against competition from the biggest names out there. Later it would go on to become an Apple Break-Out title, to soar up the charts in France, and become the first western-indie title to hit number 1 in China.
2016 kicked off with the death of one of the real-life villains that inspired a central character in the book.
In January 2016 Robert Black died in prison in Scotland, just weeks before he would have been charged with the murder of thirteen year old Genette Tate. Genette had disappeared many years previously, one of a string of young girls believed to have been kidnapped, sexually abused and then killed by Black.
Black’s reign of terror ended in 1990 when a passerby saw a six year old cycle behind a white van and not emerge the other side. The passer-by called the police. But for the vigilance of that man, who just happened to be in the right place at the right time looking in the right direction, Robert Black might have stalked the roads of Britain for many more years, grabbing young girls from the streets in his anonymous white van.
Black would later be convicted of multiple child murders (LINK). Just how many more missing little girls Black was responsible for we’ll now never know, but as many as nineteen is speculated.
Having been originally written back in the nineteen-nineties the 2010 edition of Sugar & Spice had been updated to reflect the new social climate.
In the early drafts of the novel the word “paedophile” (a reminder for any Americans reading this that I write in British English) was only used once. It simply wasn’t a word in everyday use in Britain. Nowadays you cannot open a newspaper without seeing a “paedo” headline.
The 2010 version took into account technological developments (the internet, mobile phones, modern crime detection methods, etc), social changes, and at that time the latest child murder headlines.
The Holly and Jessica murders in Soham were referenced, of course, and the Vanessa George nursery school scandal in Plymouth, that sent a firm reminder, if needed, that it is not just men that abuse children.
The jovial, ever-smiling George, the epitome of a trustworthy person to leave you toddlers in the care of, used her mobile phone to photograph and distribute images of herself sexually abusing tiny children and babies in her care, and became “the face” of the abuse scandal. But the Plymouth nursery school paedophile ring had five members and only one was male. (LINK)
Since then technology has advanced still further, smartphones are now part of our everyday lives. And then the history of sexual abuse and criminal justice in the UK opened a new chapter with Operation Ore.
It’s a reminder that, sadly, all the themes of Sugar & Spice first developed in the 1990s remain topical today and will still be so tomorrow.
In the 2010 edition, for example, there is reference made to the shamed glam-rock singer Gary Glitter, at the time convicted in the UK of possessing child pornography, and then convicted of abusing children overseas. Since then Glitter has been jailed for sixteen years for historic child-sex offences and will almost certainly die in jail.
More child murders have happened. More social services scandals have emerged. And of course there is the aforementioned Operation Ore, in which police across the country have arrested countless celebrities on sex abuse charges in the wake of the Jimmy Saville scandal.
Some, like children’s entertainer Rolf Harris, were convicted. But many others were found not guilty. and the police face accusations of, at best, poor judgement, at worst, of encouraging people to come forward with false allegations to secure convictions.
Leaving aside the wrongly accused, ponder briefly how it is that so many children are still abused or killed every year, despite all the modern child protection methods and agencies we have in place.
The problem is, the sex-offenders’ register, the vetting of those who want to work with vulnerable children, and all the countless other well-meaning and often very effective child-protection measures, are geared to prevent suspected or convicted offenders offending again.
What we don’t have in place in Britain is somewhere a man, or woman, faced with desires they know to be wrong, can safely go to seek help before they get to the point of offending.
When you think the unthinkable, where do you turn?
Sugar & Spice is no cosy mystery to be read in a comfy armchair on a rainy Sunday afternoon. It’s first and foremost a crime thriller – not so much a who-dunnit but a why-it-was-done and, perhaps most importantly, a why-was-it-allowed-to-happen.
Yes, this is fiction and the events are compacted in time and thereby exaggerated for dramatic effect. But the incidents and characters in this book, while fictional, are amalgams of real events and real people.
To the occasional reviewer who has mis-read Sugar & Spice and concluded there must be an “agenda” to the story, I would say this.
Agatha Christie managed to write convincing murder stories without being a murderer.
Arthur C. Clarke wrote about space and visiting distant planets never having left the Earth once during his illustrious writing career.
JK Rowling, to the best of my knowledge, never went to Wizard’s School.
I didn’t live through World war Two, was never in Auschwitz, and have never been a twelve year old Romanian girl, but I wrote a novel, Anca’s Story, told through the eyes of a twelve year old Romanian girl in Auschwitz, so convincing many reviewers mistook it for a real-life memoir..
If there is an agenda in Sugar & Spice it is not to demonize social workers, belittle the police or “sympathise” with child abusers. It is to make us ask why, if our child protection system is working effectively, these things are still happening.
Currently I’m writing the long-awaited sequel to Sugar & Spice, titled, of course, Puppy Dogs’ Tails. That will hopefully be available sometime in 2017.
Meantime watch out for Sugar & Spice – the Story Behind the Story, which will appear piecemeal online through 2016 and eventually as a complimentary “true crime” book in 2017.
For now, I leave you with this thought.
The abduction and murder of children happens. But it is precisely because these tragedies are so rare that they make headline news. There are nearly seventy million people in the UK but just a handful of child abductions and murders by strangers every year. There is far more chance of winning the lottery than your son or daughter, nephew or niece, becoming a victim of the monster on the street corner.
Far more children are abused – and killed – by family members and family friends than are ever harmed by strangers.
But regardless of who the perpetrator is, many of these crimes might never have happened if help had been available before the would-be abuser took that first step.
When you think the unthinkable, where do you turn?
West Africa, 2016
Between July 1963 and October 1965 five children – the youngest just ten years old – were abused and murdered by Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, some of their bodies later found buried in shallow graves on Saddleworth Moor, in what is now Greater Manchester, England.
The trial judge, Mr. Justice Fenton Atkinson, described Brady and Hindley as “two sadistic killers of the utmost depravity.”
Pornographic photographs were found of one victim, a ten year old girl, Lesley Anne Downey, along with a thirteen minute tape recording of the child’s terrified screams during her last precious moments of life.
Had Brady and Hindley not been caught in 1965 then who knows how many more children they might have abused and killed.
The monster on the street corner is no myth.
In the intervening years many more children have been abused and murdered, at the hands of men – and women – driven by desires few of us understand and even fewer of us want to think about.
Society learns from its mistakes and, as the body count has risen over the decades, ever more stringent measures have been, and are being, put in place to protect children from those who would harm them.
But still children are harmed. And by family members and friends far more often than by total strangers.
Had help been available when Ian Brady and Myra Hindley first realised they were sexual attracted to children, might Lesley Anne Downey and the other Moors Murders victims have lived? We’ll never know.
When you think the unthinkable, where do you turn?
Some e-reading devoices and apps will bring the reader direct to this, the first page of chapter one. If that’s you, I strongly recommend you back-up a few pages and read the introduction explaining how and why this book came to be written.
◊ ◊ ◊
The boy watched with satisfaction as the dented Coke can slid gracefully beneath the still water. He licked his forefinger and chalked an invisible point on an imaginary scoreboard.
His friend wiped a bare arm across a sweating brow. “Three all!”
Eyes roamed for their next adrenalin fix. The mannequin’s arm in the water close to the far bank, tangled in overhanging branches by the lock gate, caught their attention, triggering fantasy mode.
The onslaught of stones and pebbles churned the water around the target, but rarely managed a direct hit. The few that did made no discernible sound.
The first boy took a larger rock and with careful aim played a blinding shot that hit the target full on, sending it below the surface.
The first boy accepted the compliment gracefully. But when the object re-surfaced, bits seeming to flake off, it was time for closer inspection.
“Cease fire! Incoming wounded!” The second boy raced across the lock gate to the far bank with practised agility, in full play mode.
It hung just beneath the surface, suspended amid the sundry flotsam and jetsam that characterises an urban canal in old age. Oil slick rainbows on the water’s dark surface iridescent in the morning sun, added to the spectrum of colours the canal paraded, in the form of Coke cans, crisps packets and plastic shopping bags, drawn irresistibly to the water.
He climbed cautiously down the slime-laden metal rungs fixed to the lock wall and leant over the canal’s murky water, using an elder branch to bring it towards him. It was an unconvincing replica for a dummy.
Far too pale, with a bloated, scaly appearance that reminded him of rotting fish.
He could see yellow fingernails, and for just a second he imagined he could see bone protruding from the elbow.
He hesitated, looking to his friend, then dismissed the thought with a sheepish grin, glad he had said nothing.
As the prize drew closer he had second thoughts, but curiosity won out. His friend looked on eagerly.
The arm had a waxen appearance beneath the slime, weed and the odd leech. He hesitated to use his hands. A Tesco carrier bag floated nearby, pointlessly advertising the supermarket to the denizens of the canal’s depths. He hooked it out with the branch, let the water drain, then draped it over the object before him, lifting it triumphantly, edging his way back up the rungs to firm ground.
The first boy sported an expression of disgust, fighting curiosity as his friend placed the bag on the ground and prepared to unveil the trophy. Without the water to envelop the stench, reality dawned slowly, visual and olfactory senses together drawing the unavoidable conclusion.
A rotting limb, no larger than their own.
A child’s arm.
As the second boy stared in wonder, the first boy was already running for home, a single wail of horror sufficing for a scream, and two promising careers on the canal drew to a premature end.
Scotland Yard’s Marine Policing Unit, formerly Thames Division, the police marine corps, was already pre-occupied with a suicide jump from Tower Bridge and further downstream a dinghy, broken free from its moorings and careering along the Thames with the ebbing tide.
A police patrol boat close to the scene quickly handled the loose dinghy.
The suicide jump and the gruesome discovery in the Southall lock both warranted the limited resources of the MPU’s specialist Underwater Search Unit.
It was noon before the Underwater Search Unit was in place at the canal-side to commence the search, all eleven members of the crack police squad at the scene. By the time the first frogmen slipped into the murky water, the child’s limb was already in the pathology lab of a nearby London teaching hospital.
Dr. David Thewliss conducted the preliminary assessment, judging the arm belonged to a child between eight and twelve years old, and had been in the water for up to a week. All but two of the fingernails had parted company with the limb, but those that remained warranted the full attention of the doctor.
He elected to reserve judgment until the rest of the body was found, arranging for a mobile lab to be on standby. Experience told him the rest of the child’s body was in the canal nearby. A water authority expert, advising the police, directed them to cordon off the canal a mile either side of the find.
Light and dark has no meaning beyond the first few feet of water and the search continued unabated through the night. While police frogmen conducted their fingertip exploration of the canal’s depths, records of missing children were being consulted and collated in preparation for the inevitable. London officers were particularly busy, but across the country police forces were on stand-by.
In the CID operations room on Fort Hill, Margate, on the north Kent coast, Detective Inspector David Pitman spent an anxious night by the phone. He’d already cancelled all engagements for the next day.
A pessimist by nature, Pitman opted for worst-case scenarios just to feel relieved when they didn’t materialise. Forty years on the job created that kind of negativity. It was the early hours of Tuesday morning when the confirmation came. There was to be no relief this time.
Despite the best efforts of the police to keep people at bay, the banks of the Southall canal were rapidly populated with the curious, the concerned and the media, quick to realise a major story was unfolding. This was breaking news, as the immaculately adorned television presenters reminded their audiences over and over.
A child’s severed arm in a filthy canal was of nationwide interest. Reporters, photographers and cameramen alike hovered like vultures, hoping for the worst. Editors put production on hold and held their breath for it.
As news of the gruesome find spread, time stood still for parents of missing children around the country, glued to their TV sets, sat by the phone, waiting for the call they prayed would never come.
Cordoning off the scene in any meaningful way proved impossible. Barges were being held up at a point a mile either side of the lock, but despite the best efforts of the police it was futile trying to keep the crowds distant. Powerful cameras were trained on the scene from every angle. A helicopter hovered overhead, recording events, ready to zoom in at the first sign of activity.
It was imperative to be there the moment the shout came.
The moment the body was found.
Unconfirmed rumours about the yellow fingernails on the severed arm were being tossed between editorial boards at news-centres across the country, persuasive arguments flying pro and con as to how to handle the story.
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