Malcolm Fairley

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Malcolm Fairley - The Hunt for The Fox

When a population was terrorised by a masked man

Leighton Buzzard, Dunstable and Tring. Three small provincial towns positioned below the Chilterns, along with diverse villages forming a triangle straddling three county-boundaries: Bucks, Beds and Herts. Hardly the setting for major crime, so you might think. Yet here, in the summer of 1984, terrified residents formed vigilante groups and barred their windows after a series of armed burglaries, rape and indecent assault by the lone invader who became known as the Fox.

Police responded to these night-time terror attacks on victims in their homes – in their beds, even – by drafting in officers from different force areas and from the picket lines of the 1984 Miners’ Strike, and used aerial surveillance, as well as armed patrols, and even ‘psychological profile’. But the Fox, undaunted, continued his one-man crime wave, unchecked and undetected until he was arrested as a result of a routine but thorough police line of enquiry.

It started in April, when a 74-year old woman who lived alone went to bed at 9 o’clock in her Linslade, Leighton Buzzard home. For an hour she read peacefully, then turned out the light. She was drifting into sleep when she was startled by a shuffling sound, and when she opened her eyes she saw a man in her bedroom.

Holding a gloved hand in front of his face, the man pulled back the bed covers and indecently assaulted the woman. She bravely resisted his advances, so much so he fled. Thereafter, as he would admit in court, he committed a series of burglaries, in which he would enter homes and sometimes gather together women’s photographs for his perusal. Then, on 10th May, he broke into a house in nearby Cheddington.

It was the home of a 35-year old single man. He was out visiting his girlfriend when the Fox broke into his house and stole £300 and, significantly, a shotgun and cartridges. Most burglars would have been satisfied with stealing their loot undetected and unchallenged, but not the Fox. Instead, he decided to wait and see who would turn up. When the man did, at eleven o’clock, he found the Fox waiting, wearing a mask and brandishing the gun.

The Fox tied his victim up, then calmly played some pornographic videos before indecently assaulting his victim. When he left, he buried the gun so well he couldn’t find it again.

After committing three more burglaries, the Fox broke into a house in Tring. Again, there was no-one at home. He carefully removed clothing from drawers, and photographs from albums, and once again fortuitously found a shotgun and cartridges. This time he kept his find, which would use when committing further crimes.

Just three days later, in fact, when he broke into a house in Heath and Reach, near Leighton Buzzard. The occupants were out for the evening, and this time The Fox decided to construct a lair in which to await his victims’ return. He removed the light bulbs to ensure darkness, then moved furniture about, covering it with blankets, his aim being to watch videos without being spotted by giveaway light. As he waited, he collected dressing gown cords and cut the telephone wires, and made an escape route for himself, then helped himself to some food from the fridge and had a cup of tea.

At 1.30 the following morning when the occupants returned, the Fox, evidently taking fright, fled, taking with him £130 in stolen cash, an anorak and a packet of peanuts. The returning occupants found the pot of tea still warm. The Fox, meanwhile, crossed the fields on foot to another house, in Leighton Buzzard. The occupants, a married couple, were asleep when he appeared in the bedroom doorway brandishing the shotgun and wearing a mask made out of a trouser-leg, in which had cut out slits for eye-holes. He must have been a terrifying sight for the occupants.

The male occupant spotted him in the pale glow of a night-light, and shouted at him. Whether by design or accident, the gun went off and he was shot in the hand. Despite a nasty injury, he chased The Fox from the house. The stolen anorak and peanuts from the previous burglary were left behind. As the Fox himself would later tell the police, the gun going off scared him so much he committed no further offences for a month.

But then, on 6th July, unable to resist his new-found passion, he broke into another house in Linslade. Once again it was during the night, once again he was armed and once again a married couple were in bed, asleep.

They awoke to find the Fox pointing the gun at them. He ordered them out of bed and tied them up with their own clothes and shoelaces. He indecently assaulted the wife who screamed, and once again the Fox fled. Just four days later he was at it again, breaking into a bungalow, occupied by a man and wife and their two children, all asleep in their beds.

The couple woke to find themselves staring at a man wearing a balaclava and pointing a shotgun. He told the wife to tie up her husband, then indecently assaulted her. When her husband protested he struck him with the gun. Then he raped his wife, tied her up and left.

Now the Fox moved his activities to nearby Edlesborough, where he committed more burglaries, and on 17th August he broke into a bungalow occupied by an 18-year old girl, her brother, aged 17 and her 21-year old boyfriend. The girl and her boyfriend were sleeping, whilst her brother played records. When the boyfriend got up to go to the toilet and saw the Fox. He was wearing a balaclava and carrying the shotgun.

The girl, too, awoke, and was confronted at gunpoint. All three were then herded at gunpoint into the girl’s bedroom where the boys were made to lie on the floor and tied up with flex. The girl was tied up too, on the bed, with a pillow over her head. The Fox went off for a drink before returning and raping the girl. He raped her again before stealing some video tapes and leaving.

The Fox moved up country now, to Milton Keynes, where he committed a series of burglaries. Then, on 19th August, he decided to go to his native county – Durham. He drove up the M1, and then the M18, the motorway that leads to the A1 and north-east England. He had the gun, and maybe the mood, for on the M18 he reversed his car on to the hard shoulder and into a wooded area and then, on foot, he crossed the motorway and fields and broke into a house occupied by a man and woman. The location was a small hamlet, Brampton-en-le-Morthen.

Once again innocent people were awakened to find a masked man holding a gun. The Fox tied one leg of each of the couple together, searched the house then indecently assaulted the woman. The barrel of the gun thrust into the man’s face ended all protestation. He raped the woman before calmly cutting out a square of the bedding to ensure semen-stained material would not fall into the hands of the police.

Back at the car the Fox decided to hide the mask and the gun, as well as a pair of gloves, an act which would contribute in no small measure to his ultimate downfall. So too would the slight accident which ensued, when he inadvertently reversed against some bushes, scraping the paintwork of his car, and leaving fragments of paint on the branches. He then drove to Peterlee, near Sunderland, where he committed two more similar crimes. Later he returned to the Leighton Buzzard area, and he committed another eleven offences at Milton Keynes.

As might be expected, the police were out in force to try and catch the Fox. Two hundred officers from different forces were on the case, patrolling the ‘triangle’, hiding in houses and barns. Local citizens, understandably fraught with worry, cleaned out the local shops of locks, and the word was that if they caught the Fox before the police he was a ‘dead man’.

What did the police have to go on? The Fox’s description: 20-30 years (he was usually masked), 5’ 8”, slim build, athletic, between 10 and 11 stones, long smooth fingers. This might have matched any one of thousands of men, except he was said to have a northern accent, possibly ‘Geordie’.

The police ‘Foxhunt’ was not cheap, costing at least £200,000, for which Bedfordshire were asked to foot the entire bill. (The cost of policing the miners’ strike to that county was £800,000). The operations room was set up in Dunstable police station, and as well as providing manpower a new computer was brought in, at the time a novel way to try and catch a criminal. It was manned in part by officers from West Yorkshire, who had experience after the hunt for Yorkshire Ripper. But although a computer could help with information retrieval, it could on its own track down the Fox. In the end, it was good old painstaking police work that caught up with the man who had terrorised communities.

It seemed likely that the masked man who had visited the house in Brampton, Yorks, and the man who was terrorising the ‘triangle’, was one and the same. Police, rightly, considered they had a breakthrough when his tracks were traced across the fields to the M18 motorway and the place where the Fox had secreted his mask, gloves and gun – all discovered by the police, covered with leaves. There were tyre marks, too, as well as other evidence linking the crime in Yorkshire to those down south.

Then the police had a real breakthrough, when tiny fragments of paint were discovered on a broken branch, deposited there when the Fox had reversed his car. This was forensically examined, and found to belong to a British Leyland car, ‘harvest yellow’ colour. It was just a matter of finding it among the thousands registered in Britain.

It is the system of police incident rooms to allocate ‘actions’ to detectives, follow-up enquiries to whatever line of enquiry comes along – in this case, tracing and interviewing owners of British Leyland cars, ‘harvest yellow’ colour. One such ‘action’ was to visit one Malcolm Fairley at his home at Oseney Crescent, Kentish Town, London. When two detectives arrived there Fairley happened to be cleaning his yellow Leyland. They saw the scratched paintwork, and in the boot of another car belonging to Fairley they found a pair of overalls with a leg missing – the leg which had been cut up to make a mask, used on some of the offences.

Malcolm Fairley was the Fox. After months of terror, the residents of the ‘triangle’ could once again sleep soundly in their beds.

See Also:
So, who was Malcolm Fairley?
The Trial