Perhaps the most high-profile DNA-cracked case in the West Midlands was that of 17-year-old Nicola Dixon who was raped and killed on New Year’s Eve 1996.
Senior Forensic Scientist, Hazel Johnson recalls “It was a shocking case…a brutal killing of a young girl out celebrating the New Year. It was a hugely challenging enquiry – for starters the murder scene had to be thawed out to help with the forensic examination.
“A DNA profile was obtained from samples found on Nicola’s clothing and within a month allowed detectives to eliminate one suspect from their enquiries. The profile was uploaded to the then fledgling national DNA Database (formed in 1995) and officers routinely monitored the system for comparison with new additions.
Colin Waite – convicted of Nicola Dixon’s murder
“The breakthrough came six years later, in 2002, when a man was arrested following a road rage incident in Birmingham city centre. That man, Colin Waite, had attacked a driver during an argument – and swabs taken from him returned a DNA hit against Nicola’s killer.
“I guess Waite didn’t realise we could seize his DNA or that science existed to compare it to samples taken several years earlier. Nicola’s mother said afterwards she had complete faith police would solve the murder and bring her daughter to justice…and that DNA would be the killer’s downfall. She was right.”
A jury took just 30 minutes to convict Waite of murder having heard the chance of Waite’s DNA not being that found on Nicola’s clothing was around a billion to one.
Vanessa Carroll started her career with West Midlands Police in 1977 as a 16 year old cadet. She was kind and polite and quickly developed a passion for the job.
Inspector Vanessa Carroll
Her cross country running skills helped earn her the nickname of ‘thief taker’ as she out ran and arrested more than her fair share of criminals across Solihull.
She passed her sergeant’s exams in 1985 and later moved into CID, where she spent some time as a Detective Sergeant on various squads. In 1994 she was promoted to inspector and returned to Chelmsley Wood where she motivated her shift to become serious thief-takers.
She was strict and demanding but won the respect of her team and always got good results.
Looking for a challenge that might help her get the next promotion, in 1996 she decided to go out to Bosnia on secondment. Unfortunately she was never to see English soil again.
On 28 April 1996 she was run off the road in Bosnia and the crash claimed her life.
She was flown back to Birmingham in a military plane and her funeral was held at Olton Friary, which was packed with colleagues past and present.
In 1972 the prospect of a new, larger metropolitan force starting in just two years set off a search for a headquarters to replace the previous accommodation used by Birmingham Police at Newton Street.
Lloyd House in the early 70s
City engineers hoped to build a new headquarters in the legal district, but the site was earmarked for a new magistrates court, forcing them to seek another solution.
The Watch Committee of the day decided that a central site was important and decided in favour of renting Lloyd House at a cost of £140,000 a year from Messrs Stewart and Lloyd.
Lloyd House had been built between 1960 and 1961 to be the headquarters for steel stockholders Stewarts and Lloyds Ltd. The story goes that the building has an ‘L’ shape to represent the Lloyd half of the company and the name to match.
The first officers, from the City of Birmingham Police, moved into the building in the early part of 1973. However the move was not a welcome one, with staff complaining about poor heating conditions on some floors and the ‘lack of character’ of the building.
Lloyd House has been the subject of several refurbishments and remains the headquarters for the force today.
The last Birmingham officer to summon help with a whistle did so after being stabbed in January 1966.
PC Gordon Law
PC Gordon Law was stabbed in the back when he discovered young people stealing lead from the roof of a school on St Luke’s Road in Balsall Heath.
As he approached one of the suspects he was stabbed with a sheath knife. PC Law managed to blow his whistle before losing consciousness.
The quick actions of a nearby resident, who heard the whistle and sent his young son to see what was happening, meant PC Law was soon found.
They ran to Belgrave Road police station to tell them what had happened. Colleagues went to PC Law’s rescue and took him to hospital where he recovered from his life threatening injuries.
A 19 year old man was arrested and charged with attempted murder following the attack. He was later sentenced to ten years imprisonment. In 1967 whistles were replaced by personal radios.
WPC Florence Schipper started her career in the 1930s, when female officers were not on an equal footing with their male counterparts.
WPC Florence Schipper
A Staffordshire woman, Florence joined Birmingham Police in 1933. She was paid the grand salary of fifty pence a week – nearly 8p less than her male colleagues.
Unlike today, policewomen back in the thirties were given very different tasks to men. Their duties mainly involved child protection, general administration, searching and dealing with female prisoners and the occasional raid on a brothel.
Florence first became interested in darts during the early part of the Second World War. Policewomen were used in fire watching, even when there were no air raids expected. During these long, dull hours Florence helped pass the time by playing darts.
Remembering this time, Florence said: “In the early part of the war the men nearly always won any darts match which I was playing against them – I always got my leg pulled!”
Florence got better at the game however, and went on to win the All England Policewoman’s Darts Championships held in Preston in 1952. She beat off stiff competition from a Norwich policewomen, beating her two games to one.
After her victory she was quoted as saying: “Now I’ve learnt to play and I’m winning, the men don’t like taking me on!
Even though Florence was promoted to Sergeant in 1945, her salary still lagged behind that of the male sergeants and she was not allow to manage policemen, only police women. She retired in 1961 after a career of ‘exemplary’ service.