Once again the British press has been flooded with reports of a man who not only murdered his current girlfriend but also his former partner, five years apart in the town of Worthing, West Sussex. Robert Trigg was brought to trial only by the dogged determination and persistence of his girlfriend Susan Nicholson’s parents. Susan died in 2011 under circumstances her parents found very suspicious, and although her death was ruled accidental by the coroner they believed foul play was involved and launched a six-year campaign to get justice for their daughter.
When the case finally came to court in July 2017, Trigg was convicted of the murder of Susan Nicholson and the manslaughter of his previous girlfriend, Caroline Devlin, who died on Mother’s day in 2006 from what was believed at the time to be a brain aneurysm.
Men who murder their wives and girlfriends and continue to do so throughout their life until they are caught seem to be an increasing breed of selfish and arrogant individuals. When they have gotten away with murder once they feel this gives them the green light to do it again and again.
Last year we saw the tragic case of children’s author Helen Bailey, murdered by her partner of four years Ian Stewart in Hertfordshire, England. After killing Helen, Stewart hid her body in a cesspit underneath their house before telling police she had been kidnapped. In a ploy to get his hands on her sizeable wealth, once his deceit was uncovered it was revealed his wife Diane Stewart died in June 2010 in an unexpected collapse believed to be related to her epilepsy, and police are now looking into her death in case Stewart may have been involved.
56-year-old Ian Stewart was convicted of murder and sentenced to at least 34 years in prison in February this year. Of course it is not only the UK that has seen such cases. The Gregory Green case in Detroit, Michigan is another that few can easily forget after Green was convicted in February 2017 of the murder of his children and attempted murder of his wife, 15 years after he had murdered his first wife who was pregnant at the time with his child.
Robert Trigg was reportedly a very controlling man who would become aggressively jealous within his relationships. In both of his partnerships with Caroline Devlin, who he began dating in 2003, and Susan Nicholson, domestic violence was present. Caroline Devlin had reported violence by Trigg a number of times and had predicted to a friend “I won’t be here for my 40th,” as a result. She was found dead by her 10-year-old daughter lying naked across her bed in March of 2006 when she was just 35-years-old after Trigg told the child ‘there is something wrong with your mum’. Trigg left the children to call for emergency help and her death was ruled as natural causes most likely due to an unexpected and fatal aneurysm in her brain.
In 2010 he began a relationship with Susan Nicholson, one which followed a similar pattern of repeated violence within their home. In the years before her death police had attended the residence at least six times due to reports of domestic violence, however, when Susan was found dead on the sofa of their home, Trigg’s rather bizarre explanation was accepted as her cause of death. Robert Trigg told police the two were sleeping on the sofa when he ‘accidently rolled’ on top of her, suffocating her to death.
The coroner ruled her death as accidental but her parents Peter and Elizabeth Skelton, found Trigg’s explanation for their daughter’s death very hard to believe. “We knew right from the start… there’s no way two people could sleep on that sofa,” Mrs. Skelton said. Robert Trigg is a powerfully built man with a large frame and he reported that Susan was lying on her back on the sofa with him lying next to her when he must have rolled onto her.
A report by the BBC in 2014 highlighted that seven women to two men were murdered by their partner or former partner every month in England and Wales. In 2015 Woman’s Aid developed a database, The Femicide Census, which currently holds almost one thousand names and details of women killed by men since 2009, with 64% of the cases recorded involving wives and girlfriends who had been murdered by their partner during their relationships or soon after they had ended. In December 2016, in their report ‘Redefining An Isolated Incident’ they highlight that women are most at risk at the point of separation with a partner and 60% of perpetrators who went on to kill them were convicted of murder, 9% of manslaughter and 10% took their own lives at the time of the offence.
The case of Robert Trigg has been made more complex by the fact that it was Susan Nicholson’s family who uncovered the truth about his brutal actions and not the police.
Unable to get Sussex Police to listen to their concerns about their daughter’s death, Susan Nicholson’s parents hired a barrister and pathologist to re-examine the case and prove their daughter had been murdered. When the case of Trigg’s previous girlfriend, Caroline Devlin was looked into, the similarities between the deaths became strikingly apparent. Both women, according to Trigg, were asleep when they died and both died under unexpected circumstances and were found in unusual positions, Caroline Devlin on her bed and Susan Nicholson on a sofa. Furthermore, both deaths had occurred within Worthing and both were investigated by Sussex Police.
While there is no suggestion of any form of police cover-up in these cases, it appears the deaths of these two women were accepted as natural causes and accidental too quickly and further investigation into their circumstances should have been carried out.
New examinations determined Caroline Devlin had, in fact, died from a head injury, most likely after being struck on the back of her head, and Susan Nicholson was suffocated by her face being forcibly pushed into the cushions of the sofa until she could no longer breathe.
On 6 July 2017, after a 10-day trial, Robert Trigg was found guilty of the murder of Susan Nicholson in 2011 and the manslaughter of Caroline Devlin five years earlier and was sentenced to life in prison to serve a minimum of 25 years.
The relief for both the families of these women that the truth has finally been uncovered and their loved ones have received justice is no doubt tainted somewhat by the knowledge that without the persistence and motivation of the elderly Skelton’s, it is unlikely Robert Trigg would have ever been prosecuted leaving him free to kill again.
In the years since the death of Susan Nicholson and before his arrest and trial, Trigg had indeed entered into new relationships with two different women. Both women ended their partnerships with him within weeks due to his jealous and controlling behaviour, reporting he ‘was completely different when drunk’. Trigg did not take the breakdown of either relationship well bombarding the women with phone calls and text messages containing threats of violence. His behaviour resulted in a conviction for harassment in 2015 against one woman, and a further conviction in 2016 for harassment alongside assault on the second woman and he was jailed for 12 weeks.
At his sentencing hearing for the murder of Susan Nicholson and Caroline Devlin, Judge Simler told Robert Trigg:
“The grief and sadness of these two families will never leave them. These were senseless deaths and nothing can now restore their lives, nor can any part of this sentencing process restore them either. What you, the defendant, will do, I hope, is reflect on his role in causing these senseless deaths.”
The last thing anybody wants is the innocent deaths of women to be probed and examined with fingers incorrectly pointed at their partners and husbands as being involved, however, in certain cases, especially where there is a history of unexpected and unusual death of previous partners coupled with documented evidence of intimate partner violence within these relationships, it is the duty of authorities to take a closer look.
The case of Robert Trigg and the courageous actions of Susan Nicholson’s parents will at least go some way to highlight to police forces across the country the importance of full and thorough investigations and to families that there is always hope that justice can be achieved.