In a case that shocked both the city and the nation, the mutilated body of a 15-year-old teenager was discovered hidden in a wooded area more than 20 years ago. The brutal murder of Hannah Deterville sparked horror and outrage, but despite numerous police appeals and renewed searches, her killer is yet to face justice.
The West London schoolgirl was last seen on the evening of January 2, 1998, when she left her home in Queen’s Park to meet a friend. Despite being streetwise and familiar with the local area, she was never seen alive again. Her body was found close to a beauty spot in Greenford, partially hidden by forestry, after the Met Police received an anonymous call three weeks after her murder.
She had received 20 stab wounds to her face and neck, from a frenzied attack that appeared to have no motive. More than 24 years later, her family are still yet to discover what happened to their daughter and who was responsible for the brutal violence that ended her life.
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(Image: Family supplied)
A ‘fun girl’
At the time of her killing, Hannah was a popular student who was studying for her GCSE exams at St Thomas More Catholic school in Chelsea. Her mum, June, described her as a “fun girl” who enjoyed athletics and drama, who made friends “very easily”.
Her family were well-known within the community, with her mum being the director of the Yaa Asantew community centre and an organiser for the floats at the annual Notting Hill Carnival. Hannah regularly attended the carnival and was on first-name terms with many shopkeepers in the busy Harrow Road, close to where she lived.
On the day she disappeared, she was wearing orange jeans, a grey bomber jacket and red Reebok trainers, and left her home at around 7pm. She told her mum that she was going to see a friend and said that she would be home later that evening – tragically, she was not seen again until her body was discovered.
After she failed to return, her family alerted the police and placed posters around West London to report that she was missing. During an interview with The Independent, her mum voiced her frustration that the Met failed to take her disappearance seriously at first, only announcing that she was “vulnerable” after two weeks.
The police investigation
After three weeks, the police received an anonymous phone call, which led them to discover her partially hidden body near a golf course at Hornseden Hill. She had suffered 20 stab injuries to her neck and face, whilst a forensic examination showed that the 15-year-old had not been sexually assaulted nor had she been robbed of any money or jewellery.
The location where her body was found was a popular area with dog walkers and runners, but was also known to be a cruising sport for the gay community. The anonymous phone call had been made to the Gay and Lesbian Switchboard, but despite police appeals, they were unable to trace the caller.
During the police investigation, detectives came to the belief that Hannah was killed within 12 hours of being abducted and that her body had been kept for several days before it was carried by at least two people to the woodlands.
Superintendent David Niccol who was heading the murder inquiry, labelled Operation Maidstone, vocally expressed his frustration at the lack of information. He said: “We cannot find a damn motive at all. What makes someone so livid with her to stab her so many times and continue stabbing her after death? The effort that has gone into trying to hide her body, the severity of the wounds and the lack of any motive whatsoever makes it very unusual.”
While the Met had not ruled out the possibility of a psychopathic ‘travelling salesman’, they stated their belief that the killer was likely to be someone Hannah knew, who lived in the West London areas of Harlesden and Paddington. Her family stressed that she was streetwise and well-known, and would not have gotten into the back of a car with a stranger.
One of the last moments traced to Hannah is an argument that allegedly occurred outside a convenience store on the afternoon of her disappearance. A shopkeeper who knew the teenager told police that he had heard her arguing with a person in Harrow Road, although they were unsure who the other person was.
Police have been unable to establish whether this could have been the killer, but did state that they believed her attacker was familiar with the Harrow Road area. Detectives stressed that the killer would have been heavily bloodstained over the weekend of January 2, and may have been behaving strangely at that time. They are also likely to have had access to a vehicle and might had shown displays of anger in the past.
Detective inspector Brian Pender said in 1999: “Both myself and my team of officers are committed to seeking justice for young Hannah and trying to bring a degree of comfort to June and her family. This is probably the most horrific murder investigation I have been involved in.” Despite this, the case remains open and nobody has been brought to justice for the savage attack on the promising teenager.
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