The Sunday Times: Books: Letting Go: A True Story of Murder, Loss and Survival by Alex Hanscombe

Twenty-five years after seeing his mother killed, Rachel Nickell’s son tells his story.

After 25 years, Rachel Nickell’s name still has the power to move, as we recall images of the beautiful young mother violently murdered on Wimbledon Common in 1992. One of the most distressing details of her death, which dominated headlines for years, was the fact that her two-year-old son, Alex, was with her when she was killed. Now, aged 27, he has written a book about his life.

Starting in the aftermath of Rachel’s murder, when Alex became “the most famous child in the British Isles”, it offers a rare insight into a high-profile crime, revealing how the police and psychiatrists coaxed vital information about the man who attacked Rachel from the young Alex using video recordings and dolls. Alex suffered violent nightmares for years. His father, André, fled abroad with him to escape media attention, which contributed to Alex’s estrangement from Rachel’s parents. André also struggled with the immense pressure of becoming a single parent and facing his own grief.

One legacy of Alex’s formative experiences is a mistrust of authority. He rails in this memoir against the intrusive media, “so-called experts”, interfering teachers, and the “incompetent” police and Crown Prosecution Service, whose mishandling of the case meant it took 16 years to arrest his mother’s killer, Robert Napper. For years, police wrongly accused Colin Stagg, who later received £706,000 in compensation. Alex, meanwhile, was awarded just £90,000 from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority.

Although the book is not lacking in information, it feels as if much is missing. Alex was so young when Rachel died that he admits his memories are limited. Clearly he has relied on his father’s recollections. Some sentences are lifted from André’s 1996 memoir, The Last Thursday in July. But while André’s book is fraught with pain and longing, Alex’s feels distant.


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