He was the picture of innocence.
But the face of Christopher Laverack made headlines around the world when he was sexually assaulted and murdered in a case which shocked Hull in the 1980s.
Even more horrifyingly, the person responsible for nine-year-old Christopher’s death was a man who should have protected him – his uncle, Melvyn Read.
But Read took his dark secret to the grave as he died before police were able to identify him as the murderer in a case which haunted detectives for almost three decades.
Nine-year-old Christopher Laverack’s body was found floating in Beverley Beck and wrapped in a carpet bag filled with bricks on March 11, 1984.
Just two days before, the innocent Anlaby youngster had kissed his mum Pam Cawley goodbye and gone to see his sister in Harpham Grove, off Preston Road in east Hull. Little did she know she would never see her little boy again after he was abducted, killed and thrown in a stream.
Christopher had been sexually abused and beaten to death with a blunt object and despite Humberside Police’s best efforts, it took them 28 years to pin down the person responsible. By the time they did, it was too late for him to face justice.
This is the story of one of Hull’s most disturbing murders, which is now being made into a TV documentary due to air in 2020.
Melvyn Read – Christopher’s “loveable” uncle who posed in family pictures with the tragic youngster and even accompanied relatives to identify his body – was the prime suspect from an early stage.
However, despite the suspicions of police, Read’s involvement went undetected for 17 years until 2001, when several boys accused him of sexual abuse. He was arrested and locked up for seven and a half years in 2003 for those offences and the same year, police built up a case against him for Christopher’s murder.
In 1984 he lived in Grantley Grove, Hull, a 10-minute walk from Harpham Grove, and he also owned a car that fitted the description of a vehicle seen outside Harpham Grove the night Christopher disappeared.
He did not have a meaningful alibi for the night in question and he had knowledge of the site where Christopher’s body was found, having worked at a Beckside factory. Following a 2002 interview with police, he was also shown to have lied about issues pivotal to the case.
He had the means and motive to commit the crime. However, a lack of hard evidence meant they were unable to charge him with his nephew’s murder.
Detective Inspector Conrad Owen, who started investigating Read in 2001, said: “All of Read’s offending against his victims was after Christopher Laverack’s murder, which shows Read was seen as a dependable, trustworthy character.
“He succeeded in deceiving four sets of parents into thinking he was a ‘loveable uncle’ character and he managed to pull that off until things started to fall apart in 2001. Then one allegation just came after another.”
Five years later, Humberside Police arrested Read on suspicion of murdering Christopher after putting together circumstantial evidence which linked him to the killing.
It had been 22 years since Christopher’s death and police finally thought they had cracked the case. But detectives didn’t have enough forensic evidence for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to charge him, meaning the family’s wait for justice went on.
Read died in prison in 2008 and it was in this year that his identity was made public. Despite his death, Humberside Police was still desperate to crack the cold case, and a team of nine detectives were given the unenviable task of piecing together the forensic evidence they needed to finally nail Christopher’s killer.
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Detective Superintendent Ray Higgins said: “We had all the bad character evidence in terms of his propensity to offend and we had a reasonable circumstantial case against him.
“What we needed was the forensic evidence – the glue that would hold it all together.
“We went through every single exhibit and article that had been recovered and they were all looked at again for DNA or anything that could help. But the body had been dumped in water and had been in there for a couple of days, so opportunities to harness DNA were diminished.
“It was a case of looking for another way.”
Determined to crack the case
The crucial evidence was to come from forensic palynologist Patricia Wiltshire, who linked pollen found on the jeans and trainers Christopher had been wearing to Read’s garden in Grantley Grove.
She also proved an ornamental brick used to weigh down the bag Christopher’s body was found in had come from Read’s garden with detectives also confident this brick was used as the murder weapon.
Her review, which concluded in 2011, involved analysing soil samples which had been taken from Read’s garden during two excavations in 2002 and 2008. Det Supt Higgins said: “What we were looking for was a link between the brick found in the body bag and the suspect’s garden and whether there was any possibility of tracing pollen that might also link Christopher to Read’s garden.
“We gave her access to all the samples we had recovered, including soil from sites across Hull, the house at Harpham Grove, Grantley Grove and she came up with detailed findings.
“These showed conclusively the brick had emanated from the address at Grantley Grove and Christopher’s clothing had also been in contact with pollens from the garden.
“The pollen was on the front of his clothing and the soles of his shoes, so this shows at one point he had clearly been standing in the garden and, latterly, was face down in the garden.
“We knew at that point we had enough.”
How Christopher was killed by his uncle
After reviewing all the evidence, Det Supt Higgins was able to put together a picture of the night Christopher murdered. He discovered that Christopher had got to Grantley Grove where Read lived before being sexually abused and killed.
Det Supt Higgins said: “His clothing had been interfered with, his jeans were undone and his trainers were undone and there was a bite mark on his buttock, which was similar to Read’s other victims.
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“It seems something has happened that resulted in him being outside in the back garden. We would say he has been murdered there with a brick from the pond, which was then used to weigh the bag down. Read probably took him to the beck that night.”
Christopher’s murder was finally given the answers she had suspected for a long time in 2012 when Humberside Police categorically declared Melvyn Read as the man who had murdered his nephew Christopher Laverack decades earlier.
After explaining the force’s findings to Mrs Cawley, Dep Supt Higgins said: “She was aware of Read’s sexual offending and she understands this man was clearly the murderer.
“She knows his duplicity made him an expert in hiding his offending among the children. It was incredible he managed to keep it hidden for so long.”
It was a case that took its time to unravel and although Read was never given any further punishment for Christopher’s murder the family now have a man they can hold responsible for what was a shocking murder that rocked Hull to its core.
Detectives still believe Read did not act alone but this will never be proved. However, their tenacity in continuing to dig for answers provided dividends and provided a grieving family with the answers they so desperately needed.
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