Remember 1997? It was the year Princess Diana died. A comet was visible in the sky and Titanic was the film of the year. The Spice Girls reigned. In Blackpool the days around Christmas were windy.
Take a look at these two lads. Do they look familiar? Two lads from a boy band in the late 90’s? Not the case. What happened is sad beyond words.
Chris Hartley started with disadvantages. In Burnley his home town he went to a school for children with learning difficulties. He was often expelled and sometimes stayed out at night. He ran away and got into trouble. There was talk about him joining the Army…
Chris told his family that he was moving to Blackpool in early 1997. They encouraged him because he was getting in trouble in Burnley. After some difficulties… he tried to get a place in a homeless shelter but did not complete the paperwork required to qualify… he got a job at the Pleasure Beach selling pictures of the Spice Girls and the Teletubbies. For a few few months he was earning a living, he had rented a bedsit, he had a girl friend. However he had become addicted to heroin and used cannabis and methadone. His girlfriend Joanne Combeton says that he was sometimes violent and she left him. Sometimes he needed £30 or £40 a day. His friend reported that he would spend £70-£100 a week on heroin which he smoked at his friend John Lomax’s flat on Keswick Road. And when he could not get heroin he inhaled lighter fuel. Given his habits… it is not surprising that he got fired from his job on the Pleasure Beach in November … and that he became homeless. He also sought help for his drug problem. He had a sister and brother living in Blackpool.
How did he support himself when he was homeless? We don’t know. He was seventeen. In the early hours of 29 December he made a racket outside his sister Michelle’s flat, something he often did. He was last seen alive at 1.30 am walking towards Livingstone Road.
Chris was 17.
Stuart Diamond also was a troubled young man. He had served two spells for very violent attacks and he had told a doctor in one of the institutions that he fantasised about of killing people and cutting them up. When he had served his sentence the authorities had no alternative but to release him.
He had spent his early years in Ireland. His father had moved to Blackpool and his mother lived in Stockport. He was able to find a bed sitter in Park Road where there were old established lodgers. His bed sitter had a bathroom which he shared with other lodgers.
Stuart spent Christmas with his mother in Stockport. He returned to Blackpool on Monday 29 December . That night he says he went to Main Street … a pub disco. The next morning, Tuesday, his father came to his bed-sitter. They walked to the Wheatsheaf pub in Talbot Road. On the way Stuart threw away two rubbish bags down a back alley. Stuart said he was fed up with Blackpool because he could not get a job and he was thinking of moving to Leyland. He asked his father if he would explain to his landlady.
That morning , long before Stuart met his father, John Falkingham, manager of the New Century Hotel on Reads Road was putting rubbish out into a container at the back of the Hotel. The Hotel was busy with guests celebrating the New Year. The container was unusually heavy and John Falkingham lifted the lid and looked inside. Somebody had put a dummy in the container. Looking again it was not a dummy it was a body cut in two with the head missing. He called the Police.
A body cut in half around the navel. One half had been put inside a Puma sports bag. The head was missing.
The case was heavily reported and somebody rang the Police to say that Stuart Diamond had a Puma sports bag. Somebody… most likely a relative of Stuart… feared that the victim was Stuart.
The corpse was not Stuart Diamond it was Chris Hartley.
Stuart Diamond went to Ireland from Holyhead. It was probably this departure that led investigators to examine his bed sitter. That and the information about the Nike sports bag. If Stuart had stayed in his Park Road bed sitter he might never have attracted attention because there was nothing to connect Stuart Diamond to Chris Hartley.
The abandoned bed sitter had been carefully cleaned but examination revealed a fingerprint of Stuart Diamond stained with the blood of Chris Hartley. There was tissue in the waste pipe of the bathroom, further identification was not possible. With this evidence Stuart Diamond was soon arrested in Ireland and extradited to the UK.
TRIAL AND APPEAL
Stuart Diamond’s trial took place over a year later.
Stuart Diamond maintained his innocence. He said that a drug dealer had borrowed his keys to do business there. He had spent the evening at Main Street, a pub/disco. When Stuart returned from Main Street he found that there was blood in his bed sitter. He cleaned it up. When asked why he did not contact the Police he said that they were always bothering him.
In support of his case the unfortunate drug-dealer who had allegedly borrowed Stuart’s keys appeared at the trial and denied that he ever had the keys… he was in prison for an unrelated offence. In another puzzling but irrelevant piece of evidence a witness said that they had overheard a phone call in which the caller said that they had found a body. The caller was not Stuart Diamond. The defence case was feeble but Stuart Diamond stuck to it.
Residents in Park Road recalled unusual night time activity in the bathroom and the landlady remembered him cleaning the carpet.
A bath played a crucial role in the Brides in the Bath Murder of Alice Meynell in Regent Road a few hundred yards from Stuart’s bedsit.
A staff nurse said that when Stuart was briefly in a young offenders institution near Lancaster he had drawn a decapitated body on his mattress cover. The body had a bowling cap. Chris had a bowling cap… a detail that was not included in the press reports. There was other evidence that Stuart had an obsession with killing and decapitation. One male witness said that Stuart propositioned him and then threatened to kill him if he told anybody.
The case lasted a week at Preston Crown Court and Stuart was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment.
SO WHAT HAPPENED?
Here we can try to reconstruct what did happen. The prosecutor used a phrase that rings in the mind… “the reaches of the night.” In the reaches of the night Stuart, only just back from visiting his mother, walked the streets.
The last time anybody saw Chris alive… apart from the murderer… was about 3.00 am on Tuesday morning when Chris tried to wake his sister who was in a boarding house. He made a racket as was his way and the manager saw him making his way towards Livingstone Road.
And somewhere in the night hopeless, homeless, addicted Chris Hartley bumped into violent, obsessed Stuart Diamond. And went back to his bed sitter. And was strangled or stabbed. And was cut up in the shared bathroom into three pieces. And was put into bags and the Nike sports bag. And was heaved into the skip at the back of the New Century Hotel. Apart from his head. Those few hours when the rest of us are dreaming have a clinging strangeness. It is the otherness. The rest of us are unconscious and Stuart is chopping up Chris and hauling his parts except the head to the back of the New Century Hotel. The New Century is not the nearest road to Stuart’s bedsit… and he was burdened with half a corpse. So it is possible he had planned this. He might have looked conspicuous hauling his load in the early hours. He probably made use of back alleys. He must have made two journeys.
Stuart Diamond was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment at Preston Crown Court.
And that is it really. Stuart Diamond did appeal. His defence was that he was suffering from an “abnormality of mind” which mitigated the seriousness of the crime… he was admitting to manslaughter, not murder. Many of us hold two views on this matter. If somebody goes for a walk in the wee small hours with the intention of luring a victim to his bed sit and decapitating and cutting him in half at the torso and taking the remains except the head to the back of the New Century Hotel and depositing them there and keeping the head… as Stuart later admitted… and throwing it off the Irish Ferry… well clearly not all is as it should be upstairs. But then again Stuart made – a concerted effort to conceal his activities. He knew what he was doing. The authorities solved the conundrum by keeping him in Ashworth High Security Hospital in Merseyside whose alumni include Ian Brady. So at one level they hold him responsible for his actions and at another there is something unusual about Stuart. There is I believe a ward in the Ashworth hospital for people with very serious personality disorders. You know you’re in trouble if you end up there.
Going back to the tragedy, Chris was buried in Burnley on Valentine’s day. One of Chris’s sisters, Julie, died four months afterwards on what would have been Stuart’s 18th birthday. Her family said she was heartbroken.
Thinking about this case I run up against the geography teacher problem (letters to Pseud’s Corner.) The problem is that I kind of assume that other people are more or less like me… well meaning, left wingish… If somebody is different it is because of factors in their environment. But when I think of Stuart and his nocturnal activities I have to think that some people are radically different.
Was it drugs? Or Blackpool’s economic decline which made it a natural home for the displaced. Dozens of crimes in Blackpool have happened because people have sought anonymity in Blackpool. If you add drugs to that… well…
Or should the authorities have been more aware of Stuart’s homicidal fantasies, or intervened to help Chris?
The image of Stuart on his midnight rambles and performing dissection in his shared bathroom and boarding the ferry with his bundle lead me to a brick wall. The world is darker than us geography teachers admit. Pity and terror…