The sister of a father-of-five who was murdered three years ago blames The Sun newspaper for the failure to catch his killers.
In December 2011, Sarah-Jane Cunningham spent the third anniversary of her brother’s death handing out police appeal notices.
She was prepared for indifference. But she was genuinely shocked when some members of the public not only refused to take the flyers but also made comments like ”No, I am glad.”
What was it about this murder that aroused so little sympathy?
Andrew Cunningham was 52 when he was found dead in his caravan in Tooting, southwest London, at 7.40am on Wednesday, December 10, 2008. He had suffered multiple stab wounds, including what police describe as ‘unusual injuries’ to his genitals.
His home had been ransacked and his wallet containing between £4,000 and £6,000 was missing. The killer or killers had also opened boxes containing Christmas presents for Andrew’s friends.
Detectives now believe robbery is the most likely motive but early reports suggested the reason lay in the victim’s history as a registered sex offender.
The Sun led with a front page headline ‘MOB KILL PAEDO – vigilantes mutilate sex offender’. It also reported that Mr Cunningham had spent four months in prison in 2001 for raping a girl under 13 and had recently been accused of fondling a barmaid’s two year-old daughter. Other newspapers repeated the allegations and the following day the Sun ran an interview with the victim’s ex-wife in which she described him as ‘pure, cold evil.’
Mr Cunningham had in fact been jailed for having sex with a 15 year-old girl. He spent seven years on the Sex Offenders’ Register but his name was taken off in 2008, a few months before his death. And detectives have described the reports of a mob as ‘nonsense.’
Detective Chief Inspector Nick Scola told the Independent in July 2009: “There is no two-year-old girl. This was a rumour that we do not believe was true. As for the mob theory, we have looked at various CCTV images and there is no evidence of a mob being in the area. Certainly, if there was they all left individually. There were no burning torches or anything like that.”
But for Tracy-Jane Cunningham the damage has already been done.
“Why is my brother case not receiving public support with information to catch his killers?” she writes in a letter to murdermap.
“Well the answer to this is negative media reporting mainly by the Sun and News International Group who in order to sell their story decided to profile him to the world as a Evil Sexual monster out for sex with children.”
Sarah-Jane was also upset by comments left online by members of the public under the stories which effectively approved of the murder.
It was this same attitude that she experienced personally while out on the streets of Tooting on December 10, 2011.
“On the Anniversary of this murder I was present with Police at the location of this crime as I needed to be there and doing something to help solve this horrific case,” she said.
“For the last three years my life been on hold waiting for that knock on the door from officers to say ‘Yes we have them.'”
“It will only be when I hear those words will I be able to lay in my bed and sleep the whole night without waking up crying for a beloved caring man who was my big protective brother I loved with all my heart.
“Some members of the public refused to accept to take one of the Appeal Notices from me making comments like “No I am glad”.
“Had they of known that I was in fact Andrew’s sister I really do not believe they would have had the bottle to make such careless comment and what was more shocking that some negative remarks and actions were from women.”
Detectives have offered a £20,000 reward for information and continue to appeal for help solving the murder.
Sarah-Jane said: “All I can say now is if you have any humanity in you and you have information about this case, be that the offenders or any material evidence such as the whereabouts of the weapon or things stolen from my brother, or know where the clothing is of any suspect or suspects, call the police with that information.
“I know of no place where there is an offence of murder for a likeable person ‘A’ but no offence of murder of ‘B’ if we do not like the person past history. Murder is Murder regardless of who we are and or what we have done in our lives.
“Like everyone who has had a loved one murdered my reaction at first is bring back the death penalty but I am not religious and in my heart I know that even the death penalty for such an offence is in itself murder by that by the State. There’s just no justification for any act of taking another persons life.
“So Please help and do the right thing and help the police because one day you may need the public and police’s help too.”
Any witnesses or anyone with any information should contact the incident room at Sutton on 020 8721 4005. Information can be passed anonymously to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.