Copyright © 2015 Alby Stone
In the space of a fortnight, he’d left a trail of victims scattered on pavements and public spaces across London. They were clearly not carefully selected and stalked, but although they appeared to be chosen at random they were attacked efficiently and without mercy. Senior citizens, teenagers, young couples, various nationalities – they were all the same to him. A consummate opportunist, he struck without warning, emerging from crowds and melting back into them as soon as the deed was done. He was an exceptionally busy man. Up to the day when he was finally trapped and taken into custody, he’d been responsible for at least three hundred and seventeen such crimes. They were just the ones the police knew about, the outrages that had been reported or witnessed. It was assumed there were many more that had not yet come to light, and some that never would.
The police had a description: he was tall, thin and ungainly, moving like a child yet to discover the secret of physical co-ordination. According to the shocked survivors, he was a white male, grey-haired and stern of countenance, in his late fifties perhaps, though some swore he was much older. There was, so they said, something wrong with his eyes – they were watery, squinting and red-rimmed. Sometimes he wore dark glasses. The newspapers called him the Stick Man.
That last spree on Westminster Bridge was his worst. Seven victims fell before he was disarmed and wrestled to the ground by two incensed Japanese holidaymakers and held until the police arrived. He didn’t struggle or protest. Indeed, as one bystander later observed, he seemed almost glad to have been caught, relieved that it was all over.
At Charing Cross police station he was cautioned, photographed and fingerprinted, and gave a DNA sample without fuss. Well-spoken and calm, obviously an educated man, he wasn’t at all like the serial offenders who normally graced the cells. He gave his name, address and date of birth, all of which checked out. When they realised he was actually in his late seventies, the station staff took pity on him. They didn’t leave him to stew in a cell for hours before questioning but took him straight to one of the better-kept interview rooms. They gave him tea and biscuits, receiving a polite thank-you in return, and offered to call a doctor to look at his eyes, which looked as if someone had given him a dose of pepper spray. He quietly declined, saying that he was already being treated for the condition. He also declined legal assistance.
When the arresting officers entered the interview room and started the recording equipment, the suspect – always referred to as such even when they’d been caught red-handed – surprised them by saying he did not wish to answer questions but was prepared to make a statement, a confession. The sergeant was taken aback. Like most authority figures he always relished the opportunity to be what he thought of as authoritative – in other words, he liked to exercise power over people in a position of weakness – but quickly realised this would be an easy result, a quick, clean collar with a ‘guilty’ verdict at the end. The sergeant was a practical man. And his colleague, a young constable not long out of training, needed to learn the most valuable lesson a senior colleague could teach: never work hard if you could get away with not working at all. They went through the formalities of identifying all those present, reciting the date and time for the record, and began.
‘Right then, Mr Fredericks,’ said the sergeant. ‘Tell us why you did it.’
The suspect sat back in his chair, took a sip of tea, and wiped his running eyes with a pale blue handkerchief. ‘I’ll start by making it clear that I accept full responsibility for the crimes of which I am accused. I will not deny it, though I had good reason for doing what I did. It started nearly three weeks ago. It was a nice, sunny day so I thought I’d go for a walk. I live just south of the Thames, quite close to Tower Bridge. I was going to walk across, take a stroll round the Tower and then go on to the City and have lunch in the Barbican. I was almost at the Tower when one of them came right at me, not looking where he was going. I tried to get out of the way but another one was right in front of me. As I sidestepped her, another appeared out of nowhere. That’s when this happened.’ He pointed to his eyes. ‘If I’d been a couple of inches taller or shorter, I’d have been alright. But I was caught square in the left eye, and as I turned away, bang went the other. I stumbled backwards and turned around – and another one got me. It was painful but there didn’t seem to be any major damage. I went home, thinking I’d just have a bruise or two, maybe even a proper shiner. But the next morning when I woke up my eyes were like this. Corneal bruising and conjunctivitis, a bacterial infection. The doctor gave me some ointment and a prescription for antibiotics. One of the tourists must have had dirty fingers. He said it would probably clear up in a week or so. It’s better than it was but with all the watering sometimes I can hardly see and I keep walking into things.’
‘So these attacks have been what, your way of getting revenge?’
Fredericks smiled grimly. ‘I like to think of it more as accident prevention. I don’t pick them at random, you know, despite what the newspapers say. I only select those who aren’t being careful. And the more of them there are, the more careless they seem to become. They deserve everything they get. I hope they’ll learn from the experience, though I won’t be holding my breath.’
‘Where did you acquire the – er – weapon? Your garden shed?’
‘Oh no, I live in a flat. No garden, though I used to be a keen gardener years ago when I lived in a house, before I was widowed. I bought it specifically for the purpose from Robert Dyas. A pair of Spear & Jackson ratchet anvil secateurs, only fifteen quid. Quite powerful and very comfortable to grip. Easily concealed in a coat pocket until needed. Just the ticket. It was like cutting through a rose stem. One snip and that was that. Danger averted, a lesson taught.’
The sergeant was intrigued, and not without sympathy. He’d often fantasised about doing something similar. Policing the West End was hazardous at the best of times, and he’d almost been on the receiving end a few times. Privately he agreed that this recent development was an utter menace. ‘Tell me, Mr Fredericks, if you hadn’t been apprehended today, would you have continued this one-man campaign of yours?’
‘Oh yes,’ Fredericks replied. ‘As I say, they need to be taught a lesson. I can’t possibly be the only person to have suffered at the hands of these buggers. And I‘m sure every right-thinking person feels exactly as I do. They’re dangerous and, let’s face it, they look bloody ridiculous.’ He sighed and shook his head wearily. ‘Fucking selfie sticks.’