Well, it might be her. The girl who dropped into the pub late on Sunday night, drenched, with smudged make-up, to cadge a fag. I was sitting next to the door and when she asked I gave her three cigarettes as I turned away from her. I’ve got the London habit of giving to beggars without engaging. I suppose it’s an unspoken “I don’t want to know”, at best a “Look, I’ll help a bit but sort yourself out”. Whatever, she said thanks and that she’d had a terrible day, then disappeared out the door.
Ten seconds later I looked at the landlord and he looked at me, and we both thought the same thing: could she be on the run from something to do with the murders of three prostitutes – as it then was – that we’d been talking about all night? He went outside to see where the girl had gone. There was no sign.
Next day the police released pictures of two more girls who were missing. I wondered about one of them: could the girl who came into the pub have been Paula Clennell. No one caught more than a fleeting glimpse. We agreed from the first picture published that it wasn’t her. But yesterday two more bodies were found. And today, with new pictures in the papers, the doubts crept in big-time. We phoned the police apologetically: we were probably wrong but there was a slim possibility that the girl was Paula ...
The Suffolk police announced this morning that they took more than 2,000 calls yesterday, and they must have had similar traffic today, most of it going up to a police call-centre in Yorkshire: there’s a de facto national police service now. Most of the information they’re processing must have come from people like us, following the story, willing, and desperately attempting to remember what would otherwise be inconsequential moments of everyday life that might now have some significance – but not quite reliable. Dealing with all that is going to take some time. Let's hope we weren't all wasting police time and that it helps to catch the bastard.