Malcolm Fairley: The Crimes of the Fox

It was a warm June day in 1984, and Ivinghoe Beacon in the Chiltern Hills was full of activity. The sun was shining, children were playing, and enthusiasts were enjoying flying their radio-controlled planes. All of them were enjoying the good weather and were thinking of little else except their model aircraft and the sun on their faces. All of them but one. One man stood a little apart from the others, a pair of binoculars partially obscuring his face as he peered down from the hilltop at the patchwork of villages below. From time to time, he looked around and joined in with the smiles and laughs when a particularly smart model plane executed a loop-the-loop, to the delight of its young owner. But this man was on the hill for a different reason, blending in with the other people to make his actions look more innocent, like a simple sightseer. What he was really doing, however, was far more sinister. He wasn’t interested in the view itself. He was interested in which houses were the most isolated and backed onto open ground, which might allow him to break in later that night…

On Wednesday 6 June 1984, Geoff and Pamela Penfold were on their way home from an evening out at a local restaurant where they had met up with some friends. As they pulled into the driveway of their home in Tring, Hertfordshire, they noticed light coming from inside, but Geoff was sure he had turned everything off before they left. When they went in, they discovered that the light switch in the hallway wasn’t working, and the glow was coming from the television along with the muffled sound of a TV show, which they were convinced they would never have left playing. Fumbling around in the dark, Geoff grabbed a torch from a cupboard to shed enough light on the scene for him to find a table lamp, which thankfully worked.

In the illumination from the lamp, they looked around their living room in astonishment. The bulb had been removed from the ceiling light, and the room was in disarray; but not in the way one would expect if the place had been burgled. Their family photo album lay open, with some of the pictures removed from their sleeves and arranged neatly on the floor. In front of the photos were a cup and saucer with a small amount of tea still left inside, as if someone had been making themselves at home but had left in a hurry. Several of Geoff’s ties were laid out in a row on the coffee table, as if waiting to be selected for a special occasion. But the strangest thing of all was the makeshift den or blanket fort that had been created around the TV. A chair was in the middle of the room, facing towards it, with another chair about six feet away from it, a blanket draped between them. The TV was also covered with a cotton sheet taken from their bed.

The Penfolds immediately called the police, deeply unsettled. When the officers arrived, they inspected the home in more detail and found that the intruder had entered through an unlocked back door and had probably fled into the woods behind the house when he heard them coming home. It could not have been long since he left, as a pot of still-warm tea sat on the dining table. £120 in cash was missing, along with Geoff’s blue raincoat, and more concerningly, his shotgun and cartridges. Oddly, the trespasser had tucked into a bag of salted peanuts from the kitchen cupboard, spilling some on the table and taking the rest away with him. The police suspected that the intruder was someone sleeping rough, who came to take food and drink and spend some time in a makeshift shelter before leaving. The Penfolds bolted their doors extra carefully that night, but what they didn’t know was that they had been extremely lucky compared to some who would be targeted later by the unknown man.

Three nights later and 12 miles away, the unorthodox burglar struck again at a home in Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire. Looking over his shoulder to ensure he was unobserved, he broke in through a back door and inspected the house carefully before letting his guard down. There was no dog bowl, so he breathed a sigh of relief; it looked like he wouldn’t be detected by any enthusiastic pets. He immediately set to work constructing a den from blankets and furniture to conceal himself from any passers-by who might notice a shape moving about inside. He made a cup of tea and helped himself to some cookies from the kitchen cupboard while he flicked through the family photos. It looked like the homeowners were a couple in their 40s. He rifled through their clothing and cut up a trouser leg from the wardrobe, making eyeholes and then pulling it over his head to use as a mask. What he didn’t realise was that the owners were on their way home, and although they didn’t have a dog of their own, as chance would have it, they had gone to pick up a relative’s Alsatian which they would be looking after for a few days. As they neared the house, the dog’s hackles rose and it let out a low growl then started to bark, sensing that something was wrong. The man absconded, leaving another strange scene behind him.

But the man wasn’t ready to give up that night. Half a mile away, he pulled on his trouser-leg mask, slipped into the home of Bernard and Linda Jackson, and crept up the stairs. He slowly pushed open a bedroom door and saw a teenage boy fast asleep inside. This didn’t interest him, so he closed the door again. Seeing everything through the bisected viewpoint of the two ragged holes cut into the mask he had fashioned, he tried the next door and found a man and woman inside. Bernard Jackson was a light sleeper and woke immediately, turning on his bedside light in panic and shouting, ‘Who are you? Get out of my house!’

Startled by this angry reception, the intruder shot Bernard at point blank range. Just as he did so, his victim raised his arm in a defensive gesture that saved his life, preventing the bullet reaching his chest. The gunman ran downstairs and leaped out of the kitchen window, escaping in the direction of the nearby countryside. Bernard tried to chase him but collapsed in the kitchen from shock and blood loss. Two of his fingers had been blown off, but he survived. When the police arrived, they immediately noticed that the attacker had left behind a blue raincoat and a bag of peanuts – the ones he had taken from the Penfolds’ home three days earlier. The shotgun he used had also been the one stolen from Geoff Penfold. They now knew they were dealing with a repeat offender.

A forensics team examined the Jacksons’ home, taking photographs and impressions of shoe prints, but they were unable to obtain any fingerprints as the man had worn gloves. A stool lay toppled over on the kitchen floor with the blue anorak next to it, the stolen bag of peanuts tucked inside the pocket. Police surmised that the perpetrator had taken it off and left it downstairs to avoid waking the homeowners with the rustling of the fabric. Detective Chief Inspector John Branscombe wondered whether the same man could be responsible for a series of other unsolved incidents with unusual features that had taken place recently in the area. The investigation was dubbed ‘Operation Peanut’ and would soon grow to involve different police forces across five English counties.

One of these incidents involved 74-year-old pensioner Mrs Ryder who lived in Leighton Buzzard, not far from the Jackson home. She told police about her terrifying experience a couple of months earlier, in April. It was 10:00 p.m. and she was just drifting off to sleep when she glimpsed the silhouette of a man looming in the doorway of her bedroom, wearing a mask with crudely cut eyes, nose, and mouth holes. Mrs Ryder thought it looked as if it had been cut from a piece of clothing, and noticed that brown, curly hair was visible sticking out of the top. Terrified, she asked him what he wanted and told him she had no money. Wordlessly, he advanced towards the bed, pulled back the covers, and sexually assaulted her. The 74-year-old put up a fight but was unable to stop him. Scenes of crime officers collected fibres from the house and took an impression of a mark on the door which the attacker had left when he broke in. They used a fast-setting plastic called Silkaset to take this impression, and from it, scientists deduced that the man had used an 8mm wide screwdriver to access the house, which had a flat blade and some unusual markings.

More incidents came to light and were linked to the investigation, each one seemingly more violent than the last. The day before the break-in at the Penfolds, an attack took place seven miles south in rural Cheddington, in the neighbouring county of Buckinghamshire. 35-year-old Harry McDonald recounted the terrifying incident to police, explaining that he had just got home from visiting his girlfriend when he opened his front door to see a man sitting on his sofa pointing a 12-bore shotgun at him and shining a torch into his eyes. The shotgun was Harry’s own, which he usually kept in a cupboard under the stairs. In the lounge, two chairs had been set up with a blanket draped across the top, like a sinister version of a child’s den. Harry was forced into the bedroom at gunpoint, where he saw that the man had laid out several belts and ropes, and immediately knew with terrible clarity what the assailant had in mind. He had clearly been lying in wait for him to get home, malevolently plotting his next actions. The masked invader tied and blindfolded Harry McDonald and raped him, then pocketed £300 in cash as well as cartridges for the shotgun. The police and the media began referring to the burglar and rapist as The Fox, due to his propensity for prowling the countryside and building dens inside his victims’ homes before absconding into the night.

A month later in July, The Fox took advantage of the summer weather to enter a house where one of the downstairs windows had been left open due to the heat. Once again it was in Leighton Buzzard, this time in the Linsdale area, and the property was home to a couple; a man and a woman. The assailant took them by surprise and tied them up, gagging them using items of clothing from their own wardrobe, and raped the woman. Rather than running from the scene after the attack, he boldly made himself a cup of tea and drank it while sitting inside the den he had set up in the living room, just like in the previous break-ins. The victims had been unable to see his face as he wore a home-made balaclava, but they thought he was about 5’9” and may have been in his mid to late 20s. Police posted flyers to warn the public about The Fox and advised people not to be tempted to leave their windows open in the warm weather.

Police flyer

The next attack took place in Linslade again, on Tuesday 10 July in the early hours of the morning, between 2:30 and 3:30 a.m. A married couple in their 30s woke in terror to see a masked and armed man in their bedroom. He forced the woman to tie up her husband and then sexually assaulted her before melting away into the darkness. The traumatised pair called the police as soon as they were able to get free of their bonds, and officers hurried to set up a cordon around the area, but The Fox patiently lay low in the woods for more than nine hours to evade them. The police learned some vital clues from the victims’ statements; firstly, that the attacker had a Northern accent, secondly, he wore his wristwatch on his right hand rather than his left, and thirdly, he smelt fresh. This told police that contrary to their original supposition that he was sleeping rough, he clearly had access to accommodation where he could change his clothes and wash.

Meticulous forensics unearthed more useful evidence. Human beings shed fibres just as animals shed fur, but these fibres are far too small for the naked eye. The scenes of crime officers were able to collect some of these microscopic fibres from the bedroom and when analysed, they found that there were white rabbit hairs on one of the knots tied around the victims’ hands. At some point, the attacker had got rabbit hair on his hands or clothes which had been transferred to the knots, which may have been from wearing angora-lined gloves. Importantly, other fibres from the scene matched those previously collected from the home of elderly assault victim Mrs Ryder, and they seemed to come from a sweater worn by The Fox, as the chemical composition of the fibres and dye mixtures matched. It was already clear that these crimes were linked, but now they had the scientific evidence to prove it. The media was anxious for answers, and Graham Craddock from the Forensic Science Service explained that the case presented unusual challenges of coordination across multiple jurisdictions, given the ever-widening geographical area across which The Fox was committing his crimes.

By now, The Fox was on the front page of every newspaper and people across Bedfordshire were fearful. Some women slept with knives under their pillows and families with shotguns kept their weapon to hand at night; as some of these areas were very rural, it was surprisingly common for some householders to own a gun. Shops selling locks and bolts did well out of the panic, and some people even agreed code words for their friends and family to use before they opened the door.

Manhunt for the fox

But these precautions didn’t stop The Fox. Just two days after the last attack, he broke into a house in Edlesborough in Buckinghamshire, six miles south of his previous crimes. Making his way through the darkness, he opened a desk drawer and pocketed some cash that was inside. He placed his shotgun on a chair but accidentally knocked it to the floor, at which point he heard someone pick up a telephone receiver upstairs and the hushed words, ‘Police, please’. It was too late for the criminal this time. He made a quick getaway, taking the gun and stolen money with him, and disappeared once again. It seemed that the proverbial long arm of the law was not quite long enough to capture this felon who was as cunning, sly, and quick as the animal he had been named after.

The police conducted house-to-house enquiries in the area, and noticed there was no answer to their knock at number 22. The next-door neighbours told them that the people at number 22 were away, and when an officer shone his torch in the windowpane, he was satisfied that it was dark and unoccupied inside. He didn’t see The Fox lurking inside the empty house, having run down the road from number 40, where he had broken in less than half an hour before and was now hiding in plain sight. A police helicopter circled overhead searching for the suspect, while all the time, The Fox was safe and warm inside the house, leisurely flicking through the owner’s video tape collection. He selected popular 1981 comedy Gregory’s Girl, opened the hardshell case, and inserted the tape into the video player. He sat back, relaxing in the den he had created for himself and enjoyed the movie, the blanket draped over the TV preventing any light being noticed by the police outside. Yet again, he had slipped through their net.

He didn’t wait long to commit his next assault. On the night of Friday 13 July, he peered in through the window of a bungalow where three young people were dancing to some pop music. Their parents had gone on holiday, and the 18-year-old-girl, her 21-year-old boyfriend, and her 17-year-old brother were enjoying their evening. The Fox watched them carefully through the gap in the living room blinds. Unconcerned by the fact there were three of them as he had his shotgun to subdue them, he entered the house, put his foot on the base of a floor lamp and ripped out the electrical flex cable which he used to tie up the three victims. He raped the girl, then made a cup of coffee and sandwiches to satiate his other kind of hunger. Then he raped her a second time and molested both young men, spending a total of three hours at the house: three hours of sheer horror for the victims who were helpless under his control.

The teenagers were able to tell the police that the man was wearing a blue and white striped jumper, jeans, and beige coloured shoes, along with a black mask with eye and mouth holes cut out, and brown hair visible at the top. They thought he was about 5’9” and left-handed, which might have explained why a previous witness noticed that he wore his wristwatch on his right hand, which is more common among left-handers. Forensics experts obtained a footprint from the base of the lamp stand, which helped them to identify the type of shoes he wore.

The Star Newspaper

For the first time in British law enforcement, detectives used a computer, nicknamed ‘Metal Micky’, to collate information and help them search criminal records for anyone matching eyewitness accounts. Reports from across Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire poured in and were painstakingly entered into the database. Improvements had been made across the country to give police forces access to computers, following lessons learned from the Yorkshire Ripper case, when serial killer Peter Sutcliffe murdered at least 13 women between 1975 and 1980. The police had interviewed Sutcliffe multiple times and his car registration had been flagged, but because Yorkshire Police were using a manual card-based system for cross-referencing, his details got lost in the index which significantly delayed his arrest.

Meanwhile, The Fox was lying low at his brother’s home in Leighton Buzzard. His brother was completely unaware of his nocturnal activities and had even nailed the kitchen windows shut in fear of the masked marauder, with no idea that the dangerous man all over the newspapers was a member of his own family. The pair even discussed the case, with The Fox’s brother explaining to him what the newspaper articles said, as The Fox couldn’t read. The article mentioned that police were planning to go door-to-door to carry out blood testing of local residents, which spooked him so much that he turned his attentions towards a new geographical area; Milton Keynes, 20 miles north. At that time, Milton      Keynes was a newly developed town created to ease housing pressures in London, and older readers from the UK may remember the adverts shown on TV in the 70s and 80s encouraging people to move there, to the home of the iconic but much-derided concrete cows sculpture.

There, The Fox continued his series of rapes and burglaries but found it increasingly challenging due to increased vigilance in the area, greater police activity, and the threat of blood testing. The media had also reported that citizens had taken to hiding in barns waiting to catch any intruders. He decided to head elsewhere, driving four hours north towards Peterlee in County Durham, in the northeast of England. On route, he stopped at the midway point of his journey and parked in a wooded area, making his way on foot across some fields towards the small village of Brampton in South Yorkshire, which had a population of just 100 people. By now, it was night-time. He stealthily entered through an open downstairs window and tiptoed up to the bedroom, where a middle-aged married couple named Mr and Mrs Boyes were sleeping. They were startled awake when he entered and saw the masked man pointing a shotgun at them, thinking for a moment that it was a terrible dream. It wasn’t. The Fox ripped the phone cable out of the wall to stop them calling for help, then tied up Mr Boyes using ties and belts from a drawer. He then used the phone cable to tie Mrs Boyes’ hands together above her head, gagged her with a tie, then raped her.

After the vicious assault, he cut out a section of the bedsheet which was stained with his semen and walked back through the woods towards his car. He buried the section of bedsheet, the shotgun, his mask, and one black glove, not noticing that the other glove was missing. As he started up the car to drive away, he accidentally reversed backwards and hit some bushes and branches with his car. Little did he know this seemingly minor act would ultimately lead to his capture.

The following morning, on Saturday 18 August 1984, a farmer noticed a single black glove caught in a low tree branch. He looked around and spotted a police car parked outside the house of his neighbours, Mr and Mrs Boyes, so he knew at once that something must be wrong and suspected the black glove might be important, so he quickly took it to the police. Mrs Boyes reported that the attacker was a Geordie (British slang for someone from the Tyneside area, around Newcastle). She knew this because her gardener was also from that area, and she recognised the accent. Police sealed off the area of woodland near the farmer’s field where he had found the glove, and after an extensive search they discovered the items The Fox had buried in the earth. Photos and measurements were taken, and the lab was able to identify his blood group from the bedsheet. It wasn’t long before they found the broken branches and a damaged tree and established that the suspect had hit it with his car while making his getaway. Examining the tiny flecks of paint that had been transferred to the tree trunk and calculating the angle of impact, forensic examiners worked out the height and shape of the rear pillar of the car, which was most likely a hatchback. They took all the material back to the Huntingdon crime labs in Cambridgeshire for further investigation, where they compared the sliver of paint from the tree trunk against car colour charts and identified it as 7919 Harvest Gold. The only car that came in that colour and matched the size and shape of the one that hit the tree was an Austin Allegro. They now knew his height, his blood group, the type of clothing he wore, his car, and his house-breaking implements. They even knew he was left-handed and had brown curly hair. But they still needed a name.

The Fox was keeping a low profile in Durham, but eventually, he headed back down to the area known as ‘The Triangle’, referring to the tri-county Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire, and Hertfordshire region. On the way, he broke into the home of factory supervisor Yvonne Chow and attempted to rape her. She bit his hand and he hit her with an iron bar, injuring her nose and eye.

Eleven more assaults followed back in Milton Keynes, all bearing the hallmarks of The Fox. Dens were built, cups of tea were drunk, and money was stolen, but since the police had discovered his buried shotgun, he now relied on using a knife to intimidate his victims. His final, unsuccessful attack took place on 9 September, when he broke into the house of a sleeping woman. She managed to fight him off and he ran off into the night.

The case was now top priority, and 200 police officers were working on it. Many had been stationed at picket lines to keep order during the miners’ strikes that were going on at this time but were pulled off to help with the investigation. Police officers were stationed in barns and houses all around the Triangle area in the hope of catching the perpetrator, while local residents formed street patrols and neighbourhood watches, to the point that police were concerned there might be a risk of vigilantism if an outsider was spotted in the area.

Detectives followed up the car lead and worked their way through a list of 1,500 registered owners of Austin Allegros in Harvest Gold, searching for anyone with connections to the northeast of England. This was a lengthy task which required dogged policework to trace, identify, and eliminate every single one. Detectives Henkes and Tompkins spent a day in London making a number of routine calls as part of this enquiry, visiting people on the list one after another. It was exhausting work, and both men had been working 16 hours days to try and solve the case, which left barely any time to spend with their own families. Frustratingly, many people on the list had moved on, and forwarding addresses were vague or non-existent. One of the potential suspects was a man named Malcolm Fairley who had recently moved to 65 Oseney Crescent in northwest London. On Tuesday 11 September 1984, Henkes and Tompkins paid him a visit. The first thing they noticed as they approached the house was an Austin Allegro parked outside in Harvest Gold. Next, they saw its owner; a man with a slight build and dark curly hair, who was cleaning the vehicle.  They couldn’t help noticing the scratches on the paintwork.

Detectives Henkes and Tompkins approach suspect[police reconstruction]











As they began questioning him, their detectives’ instincts kicked in and they sensed something about Fairley that didn’t sit right. Fairley confirmed the Allegro belonged to him and that he had previously worked in the Bedfordshire area until recently. He was originally from the northeast but had now brought his family down to London. His accent was noticeably a Geordie one, and he had a slight stammer. Tompkins spotted a screwdriver in the toolbox Fairley was using and observed that it looked exactly like the kind the forensics team had described as the one used to break into homes. On the backseat of the car were two pairs of green overalls, one of which had a missing leg. Could the leg of the garment have been used to fashion a ski mask?

The detectives also noticed a wristwatch on the front passenger seat of the car, and an idea occurred to them. Detective Henkes said casually, ‘Is that your watch? You don’t want to leave it there, it might get nicked.’ As they hoped, Fairley picked up the watch with his left hand and placed it on his right wrist. Along with the scratches on the car, his physical description and accent, and his admission that he was in the area at the time of the attacks, it was enough to arrest him. He was handcuffed and escorted to the police station for questioning.

They had uncovered the identity of The Fox, a dangerous man who burgled and raped men and women of all ages indiscriminately, and who was willing to kill. He had fired a shotgun at one of his victims, Bernard Jackson, at point blank range, and had it not been for Bernard’s quick movement to raise his arm in front of his body, he would almost certainly have died. Now they knew that The Fox’s name was Malcolm Fairley, it was time to learn more about the background of the man who had run rings around the police in five different counties over the last few months.

Fairley was born in Silksworth, Sunderland in the northeast of England on 17 August 1952, so he was 32 at the time of the attacks. He was the youngest of nine children born to mother Hannah and coal miner father Ambrose. He was bullied at school and was frequently absent, so he had never learned to read, and could write nothing more than his own name. He was reluctant to speak to strangers due to his stammer, and he left school at 15. As a child, he often went missing at night and was known to take his dog and go camping in a tent on the local Tunstall Hills. Relatives described him as a quiet and lonely child, but he got on well with his mother. He enjoyed watching cartoons and later, violent pornographic films which he imported illegally. His father Ambrose had died when Malcolm was quite young, and little is known about him, except that he had been fined back in 1938 for keeping a dog without a licence according to the Sunderland Echo, which appears to be the only minor hint of criminal behaviour in the family’s past.

Malcolm got into trouble for theft as a teenager and spent his twenties in and out of prison. His first job was as a labourer at a dairy which only lasted a few months, then he spent 16 months working at a coal washing plant then briefly as a trainee welder, but aside from these sporadic stints, he spent much of his time unemployed. He met his first wife Joan Sinclair at a ballroom when they were both 19. Joan was impressed with the well-dressed young man who was a good dancer, and when she fell pregnant soon afterwards, they hurriedly married. Joan’s mother, Mary Sinclair, saved up £100 to pay for their wedding cake, but Malcolm stole the money.

The newlyweds lived with Joan’s parents for a while but later moved out and found a home of their own. Everything they had in their house was stolen, although Joan was unaware of this at the time. She later said, ‘He had nice shirts and ties. They were probably stolen too, but I didn’t know that.’ Their son Paul was born in April 1972, but their happiness together was short lived. Malcolm started beating Joan and she quickly divorced him, but despite his violent nature, Malcolm was given custody of Paul. His mother-in-law later said, ‘He had a way with him, as if butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth. Any woman could take to him. I thought he was fine when I first met him, but I soon realised different. He was a bit of a dance hall Romeo. His hobby was stealing cars, but he was never any good at it. He was a bloody fool, he always left fingerprints.’ It seemed Malcolm had learnt from his early criminal experiments, as he had graduated to wearing gloves by the time of his spate of burglaries and rapes.

Malcolm got married again a few years later in August 1977, to a woman named Georgina Bell whom he met at an ice-skating rink. They had two children together, Frances and Gary, and lived in Peterlee, County Durham. This marriage, too, was plagued by domestic violence and Malcolm’s inconsistent employment. Georgina worked in a Woolworths shop, but didn’t earn enough to support the family, so in 1983, Malcolm moved down to Leighton Buzzard in Bedfordshire to lodge with his brother in the hope of finding work. He took on various labouring jobs in the area, as well as in Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire, so he came to know the three counties well. This explained why he had driven northwards to Durham a few weeks prior to his arrest – he was on his way to visit Georgina and the children to celebrate his birthday, and they had enjoyed a family holiday in the Scottish Highlands.

After his arrest, Malcolm’s mother Hannah Fairley had to be sedated by a doctor. Even his first wife Joan, who knew only too well that her ex-husband was capable of violence, was shocked to hear about his crimes. His cousin Ken Fairley say, ‘Our Mally’s problem was that he could never communicate with anyone outside the family. He always shied away from making close friends with anyone and he would sit in the house for hours on end watching television. He would sometimes hire a video. He liked sexy films best, but he wasn’t keen on letting his wife see the sexy ones. We never really knew what our Mally was up to. He would fool around with old cars during the day and at nighttime he would go out alone. He never said where he was going or what he was up to, and he didn’t like us asking. We all know Mally had a criminal record, but we were deeply shocked when we heard of his arrest.’

Malcolm Fairley confessed his crimes after his arrest and made no attempt to deny responsibility, although he offered no repentance, telling them that he wasn’t sorry for what he had done, but because he had got caught. He admitted that having a weapon made him feel powerful, saying, ‘The gun is king. When I got the gun, I felt I could get what I wanted.’ However, he claimed that after the incident in Leighton Buzzard when he shot at Bernard Jackson, he had never loaded the gun again and had only used it to intimidate his victims.

Fairley had committed as many as 80 crimes by the time he appeared before the Magistrates Court on 14 September 1984. He faced a litany of charges including three of rape, two of assault, two of burglary with intent to commit rape, and one of possession of a firearm. As he was escorted into the courtroom, police covered his head with a blanket to protect him from projectiles thrown by the hostile crowd and the attentions of the photographers, perhaps reminding him of the dens he was so fond of building and hiding in.

Fairley told the court he was glad he had been caught so that he could get help, which contradicted his earlier statement to the police that he wasn’t sorry at all. He claimed he had never intended to hurt anyone, and his defence lawyer said that his client had no clear idea of right and wrong and that his poor education and obsession with violent pornographic films had influenced his actions. Judge Caulfield reprimanded him in strong words, ‘There are degrees of wickedness beyond condemnatory description. Your crimes fall within this category. You desecrated and defiled men and women in their own homes. You are a decadent advertisement for evil pornographers.’ As his sentence was announced, Fairley stared blankly at the judge and nervously played with his fingers behind his back. He was found guilty and given six life sentences. The Fox had finally been caged.

The whole operation had cost the police a huge £200,000. Chief Superintendent Brian Prickett praised detectives Tompkins and Henkes and told the press, ‘You can have all the technology in the world but if you don’t have a good detective, you won’t catch your man’, referring to their tireless legwork in working through the list of 1,500 Austin Allegro owners, and their hunch about Malcolm Fairley. Given that the investigation took place at the dawn of the computer age and before the advent of CCTV and DNA usage in the UK, the police did well to catch The Fox and co-ordinated effectively across multiple police jurisdictions.

Fairley lodged an appeal against his sentence which was rejected by the Court of Appeal. In October 1999, there was unease amongst his victims that he might be released, but a senior spokesman from the Home Officer said, ‘I want to make it known that Malcolm Fairley is not being considered for release or parole in the foreseeable future, although you can never say someone is going to be imprisoned indefinitely.’ There was also a groundless rumour circulating that Fairley had already been released from prison and been given a new identity, which stemmed from someone claiming to be Fairley’s son, but there was never any evidence for this and since then, no further information has been reported in the media about Fairley or his crimes as The Fox.

Charles Bronson, the infamous violent prisoner currently serving a life sentence for armed robbery and assault, drew an infamous series of illustrations called the ‘Dirty Dozen’, of the people he has met in prison whom he considers to be the most evil. He granted Malcolm Fairley a place in this collection, alongside Moors Murderers Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, serial killer Fred West, and killer doctor Harold Shipman. One wonders about Bronson’s definition of evil, given his own crimes and the fact that he once described the Kray twins as ‘two of the best guys’ he’d ever met.  His artwork sold for £545,000.

Are Fairley’s crimes really in the same league as this laundry list of violent, remorseless killers? He certainly left a string of injured and traumatised men and women in his wake who can never forget what he did to them. Could things have been different if his early criminal tendencies and fixation with violent films had been somehow addressed when he was younger? Since he chose not to seek help for his uncontrollable desires, this is something at which we can only guess.



British Newspaper Archives:

Liverpool Echo, February 1985

Daily Mirror, July 1984 and February 1985

The Sunderland Echo and Shipping Gazette, December 1938

Evening Chronicle, February 1985

Sunday Mirror, March 1985

Luton/Dunstable on Sunday, November 1999

Leighton Buzzard on Sunday, October 1999


Copyright © 2024 by Prash Ganendran



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