THE BLOG

Letters From a Killer

01/07/2013 02:06 BST | Updated 30/08/2013 10:12 BST

I began my career in journalism with a number of ambitions. They did not include striking up a correspondence with a serial killer.

Yet little over a year into my first posting, with a leading freelance news agency, I was asked to become the point of contact for a man whose very name continues to anger and unsettle almost half a century after he embarked on a killing spree in North West England with his then lover, Myra Hindley.

Ian Brady was jailed for life just over a year before I was born. However, his exploits were still very familiar.

In 27 months between the Summer of 1963 and October 1965, he and Hindley murdered five youngsters, ranging in age from 10 to 17.

Even so, the task of liaising with Brady meant involvement in just another story, one of many during my quarter of a century in the media. That doesn't mean that I was unaware of the residual news potential of the case.

I had begun work as a reporter just a week after the remains of Pauline Reade were retrieved from a shallow grave on Saddleworth Moor, almost 24 years to the day since she was abducted on her way home from a dance.

The discovery followed return trips to the Moors for Brady and Hindley, ringed by police and tracked by media.

Every letter from Brady brought a revelation of sorts.

The first thing which I noticed as our three years of letters commenced was just how orderly his messages were. Each arrived in envelopes whose every fold was sealed with a small strip of sellotape, beneath which were his initials - 'ISB' for his full name, Ian Stewart-Brady - and the date on which the notes were posted.

The style of handwriting never varied, regardless of whether the letters they composed spanned two or 12 pages. Neat, joined-up handwriting, slanting slightly to the right and inked in blue or black biro.

The tone, at first, was cold and formal but soon gave way to familiarity. Each letter began and ended with politeness, thanks and, eventually, "Best wishes". In a short time, I was no longer "Sir" but "Dear Brendan".

Both Brady and I knew this was no casual correspondence. I was keen to determine fresh information which might throw new light on the case and, in particular, lead to the body of Keith Bennett, the only one of the victims still undiscovered.

Brady appeared eager to use the contact as a means of trying to shape his perception in the media and denigrate those individuals - including his doctors, the police, the Home Office and, of course, Myra Hindley - who he believed were responsible for his position.

In addition to peppering his letters with reference to those in authority who he believed to be "cranks" and freemasons, Brady was driven to scupper Hindley's attempts to secure parole.

After a year of largely innocuous postal ping-pong, his letters became confessional. In one, written in late November 1989, he confessed to four killings - two in Scotland and two more in Greater Manchester - which had not featured in those atrocities for which he and Hindley had been incarcerated.

He expanded upon his claims in several other notes.

Though the details were scant, they presented a need for me to raise them with police. Unbeknown to me, Brady had already mentioned them to Detective Chief Superintendent Peter Topping, the former Greater Manchester Police officer who had led the reopened investigation that had succeeded in finding Pauline Reade.

Topping later referred to them in his autobiography, setting out how the alleged offences had been checked but could not be substantiated.

In the same letter to me, Brady had suggested that Topping - a common target for his bile - had been looking in the wrong place for Keith Bennett's body and with too few resources.

The topic - and the issue of Brady's willingness to help in the search for Bennett - would resurface in late 2012, a short time before the boy's mother, Winifred Johnson, died having failed in the quest to give her son a burial which had dominated the last decades of her life.

It was that renewed attention which caused me to pull the Brady letters from my archives, where they had lain for more than 20 years after contact with Patient 490 at Ashworth Hospital ceased and I moved onto other professional ports of call.

Re-reading them, it was as easy to determine Brady's state of mind as it had been listening to his evidence during a mental health tribunal which he had requested in a vain attempt to force a removal from Ashworth back to the mainstream prison population.

When he was angry, paragraphs would cover entire pages of lined notepaper and his grasp of punctuation would fail him. A succession of words would be underlined twice in black ink, emphasising the mostly bitter points he was at pains to make.

Given his tribunal failure, it now seems likely that Brady will die at Ashworth. It remains to be seen whether he will take his final secret - the whereabouts of Keith Bennett's body - to his grave.

Whether he does, is able to or not, he will at least have the comfort of knowing his resting place will not be a shallow pit on moorland whose very name is forever destined to be linked with murder.