Many of us will remember the picture of Rachel Nickell - the beautiful blonde young mother, looking carefree and happy - that was published frequently during the investigation into her horrific murder.
The crime was witnessed by her son, Alex Hanscombe, who was just three weeks shy of his third birthday on that nightmare day, July 15, 1992. They’d gone for a walk on Wimbledon Common with their dog, Molly, and were on a woodland path when the attacker appeared out of nowhere, grabbing and throwing Alex to the ground before setting upon his mother, sexually assaulting her and stabbing her 49 times in a frenzied attack, and then running off.
“As I lifted myself up after the attack I felt dizzy and unsteady, and I saw the assailant washing the blood off his hands in the stream and disappearing,” Alex recalls, whose clothes had been splattered with blood.
He noticed a piece of paper on the ground which had fallen from his mother’s pocket and picked it up, holding it out to her, saying, “Get up, Mummy!”
When she didn’t respond, he placed the paper delicately on her forehead.
“What sticks in my mind is that moment of asking my mother to get up and realising in that moment that she was gone and wasn’t coming back. Even though I was very young, that moment of realising how quickly your life can change and that feeling of heartbreak is something that has always stayed with me.”
Minutes later, he ran out of the woods into the sunshine, where families were having picnics, and was helped by passers-by. When an ambulance arrived, he was sedated and drifted off into a deep sleep. But the nightmares were to last for years.
Twenty-five years on, Alex, now 27, has written Letting Go, which charts the terrible crime and its aftermath and effect on him, tearing apart the happy family unit they’d been before his mother was so cruelly taken.
Speaking from his home in Barcelona, where he lives with his father, Alex recalls how in the weeks and months after his mother’s death, a succession of psychiatrists and child psychologists tried to coax information out of him to help with the investigation.
“The child psychologist would say, ‘And you were there when the bad man was hurting your lovely mummy...’ At those moments I would bang toys harder and harder on the table in an attempt to drown her out.”
During a controversial investigation, police arrested Colin Stagg, who was charged and acquitted before the case went cold. DNA evidence recovered a decade later led them to the real killer, Robert Napper, in 2004.
Napper was already in Broadmoor after committing more than 100 sexual offences and murdering another mother, Samantha Bisset and her four-year-old daughter Jazmine, when he was put in the frame.
In 2008, he pleaded guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility. But Alex doesn’t want to dwell on what has happened, and says he has forgiven the killer.
“I had to reach a sense of closure. I had to come to terms with forgiving that person long before the case came to a closure.’’
Letting Go by Alex Hanscombe is published by Harper Element, priced £7.99.