It’s been 36 years since one of the UK’s most notorious rapists terrorised dozens of residents across three counties.
In what came to be known as ‘the triangle’, Malcolm Fairley left his victims across Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire living in fear, as well as those who lived nearby.
He committed 80 crimes in the summer of 1984 during which time his victims were raped, sexually assaulted and burgled, reports BedfordshireLive.
He gained himself the nickname ‘The Fox’ due to his habit of breaking into people’s homes and building dens before escaping, and it was the mystery of his acts that terrorised those living in the areas he targeted.
People in Tring, Leighton Buzzard and Dunstable slept with knives by their beds and armed police swarmed the streets in the biggest manhunt the country had seen since the Yorkshire Ripper.
And 36 years ago last month, Fairley’s shocking spree was brought to an end when he was slapped with six life sentences.
A reign of terror
In spring 1984, what began as a series of burglaries soon developed into something much more sinister.
His first serious crime took place on April 11 in Linslade, a quiet suburb of Leighton Buzzard. Fairley broke into a house in the night and attempted to sexually assault a 74-year-old woman who was sleeping in her bed.
This soon developed into a pattern as residents in towns in Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire woke up in the night to a masked man in their house brandishing a shotgun. ‘The Fox’ targeted both men and women, old and young – tying victims up and sexually assaulting them.
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In other instances he entered homes while residents were out. He set up dens using blankets and furniture, watched TV and looked through photos and clothes.
The level of violence in his attacks continued to escalate. In one instance he shot a man in the hand while he was in bed. In another attack in Edlesborough he sexually assaulted two young men, ages 17 and 21, and a girl of 18.
Christopher Keen, an 18-year-old living in Leighton Buzzard at the time, remembers the fear that residents lived with in the town.
“It was a very hot summer, but I remember lying in bed in a sweltering house because no one dared open a window or door in case ‘The Fox’ came in,” he said.
“Everyone around the town fortified their premises. My parents put in security lights and a tonne of locks on the doors.
“If you were asleep and you heard any noise in the house you began to fear the worst. Certainly in mine and my friends’ families we were all sleeping with knives next to our bed. Everyone weaponised their home in some way.”
Police responded to these attacks by sending hundreds of officers onto the streets, including armed units, and it soon became one of the biggest manhunts the country has ever seen.
Christopher said: “Back then Leighton Buzzard was just a small little market town. Everyone knew everyone. Then all of a sudden the whole place is swarming with armed police.
“I remember hanging around the town and getting stopped by armed police in boiler suits, asking who are we and where are we going.
“There was an air of suspicion about anyone and everyone in the town. Everyone was a suspect, not just to the police but to your neighbours. If someone was out at night you’d start to think about why that was.”
But despite the heavy police presence the attacks didn’t let up.
Catching ‘The Fox’
Bedfordshire Police invested £200,000 into the manhunt and set up an incident room in Dunstable Police Station.
Senior Investigating Officer on the case, Brian Prickett, said: “This was a very important case to work on, the fear was genuine and the victims were subjected to the most horrendous attacks, he really put them through a terrible ordeal.
“At the height of the enquiry we were getting 300 calls an hour into the incident room and we had to look at all the clues we had to identify and eliminate suspects.”
During the Yorkshire Ripper manhunt in 1981 police had so many files in their incident room that they had to reinforce the floor to hold the weight of them all. Bedfordshire Police therefore decided to make use of a new piece of technology, a computer they nicknamed ‘Metal Micky’.
Police managed to narrow the search using two pieces of vital information. Firstly, that ‘The Fox’ had a northern accent, and secondly, that he drove a harvest yellow Austin Allegro – information they gained from a scratch on a tree he had hit while making an escape.
This led police to start making enquiries into Malcolm Fairley and officers attended his workplace in London.
In the boot of his Austin Allegro they found jean material from which he was cutting out masks, as well as screwdrivers that matched those used to break into houses. Officers arrested him there and then, just days after his latest attack.
Fairley was a 32-year-old man from Sunderland who had moved down south to take on labouring jobs. He initially lived in Leighton Buzzard before moving to London.
It emerged that he was a married man with three children and had been living this sinister second-life without his family knowing.
Christopher’s friend, Trevor, had actually met Fairley once before on a job. He described him as a “quiet lad”. When he saw on the news that Fairley was the man who had terrorised the area “it was a job to believe it was true”.
On sentencing, Fairley’s actions were described by the judge as “wickedness beyond condemnatory description”, his run of offending had imprinted on the lives of both the victims and those who worked on the case.
He was handed six life sentences for his crimes.