Karen Price was a 15-year-old girl living in local authority care in Pontypridd in Wales, a county town around 12 miles from the Welsh capital Cardiff, when she went missing on 2 July 1981. With a troubled background and no stable home life she often ran away from the residential center, as many young people did, meaning her disappearance initially did not raise a great deal of concern. Karen Price, however, did not return on her own accord, nor was she found living elsewhere in the town. She simply vanished and for eight years she was labelled as a missing person with no information on where she went or what had happened to her.
On 7 December 1989, a group of workmen in the Riverside area of Cardiff were renovating a row of terraced houses which had already been split into various flats when they discovered the skeletal remains of a young female as they were digging up the gardens. A plastic bag could clearly be seen around her head and her hands had been tied behind her back with flex cord. The body had been wrapped up in a length of carpet, secured with more flex cord and buried in a shallow grave within the immediate garden area of one basement flat.
With clear indications this was a homicide, police were keen to discover the identity of the victim as soon as possible, a task made especially difficult when a body has been in the ground for a number of years. Pathologists were able to confirm the body was a young girl in her late teens but no further features could provide leads to her identity. Police then utilized a relatively new method of identification at that time, forensic facial reconstruction. A reconstruction artist, using exact measurements from the skull, recreated the bone structure and facial features, suddenly giving this skeleton a recognizable face that could be publicly released in the hope someone would recognize who she was.
The case was featured on the BBC crime solving programme Crime Watch, telling the public of the murder of a young girl unable to be solved until this girl was identified. A phone call they received in direct response to this appeal was from a man called Idris Ali who told investigators he believed the body they found was that of Karen Price.
With her identity confirmed and investigations into her life and circumstances underway, a tale of a disruptive teen life, prostitution and abuse was unearthed which involved two teenage girls from the local authority care center, a local teenage boy and a young man at 21-years-old. The fate of Karen Price centered around one night in 1981 where decisions were made and actions taken that would result in lies and cover-up for eight years, denying her the justice she deserved and those within her life the truth about what had happened to her.
In the course of their investigations in early 1990, police were approached by a woman who has never been publicly identified and referred to only as ‘D’ in official court documents. Now 22-years-old she had been just 13-years-old when she lived at the residential center at the same time as Karen Price. She told investigating officers in February of 1990 that she at the time was involved in providing sexual acts to men for money, one such man being Alan Charlton who lived in the basement flat at the site in which Karen Prices’ body had been found.
She also informed them of a second man, Idris Ali, who she often gave some of her earnings to. This was the same Idris Ali who had called into Crime Watch to identify the remains found as those of Karen Price. She said when she saw Alan Charlton for the second time he had wanted her to behave in a sexual way she was not comfortable with and had cut her leg with a knife when she had refused to do what he wanted.
She told police a story of a violent and terrifying encounter with Alan Charlton which ended in the murder of Karen Price. This young girl and Karen didn’t know each other well but did often find themselves in the company of the same people in the small town that was Pontypridd. On the night Karen was murdered, ‘D’ told police both Karen and herself were at Alan Charlton’s flat in Cardiff along with Idris Ali.
Alan Charlton once again asked for sexual acts and naked posing which the young girl didn’t want to do she told them, and he became violent against both her and Karen. It was Karen, however, who bore the brunt of his anger as he repeatedly punched and slapped her. She reported that Idris Ali tried to intervene and stop the attack but could not do so. Alan Charlton believed he had killed Karen Price, ‘D’ told police, and proceeded to tie her up and put a plastic bag over her head before having sex with her and instructing Ali to do the same. The two men then wrapped Karen’s body inside a roll of carpet and took her out of the flat. The young girl did not see what they did next she said, but on their return some ten minutes later she was told by Alan Charlton to keep quiet or she too would be killed. She reported Ali was a reluctant party in the incident and appeared as frightened of Alan Charlton as she was. She didn’t see either of the two men again. In 1981, when this incident occurred, she was 13-years-old, Karen Price was 15-years-old, Idris Ali 16-years-old and Alan Charlton was 21-years-old.
Idris Ali was interviewed as a witness on 16 February 1990. He talked of drug taking and sex parties with Alan Charlton and mentioned the young woman who had made the statement but only mentioned Karen Price after police confronted him with parts of the woman’s statement.
The statements Ali gave surrounding the incident changed numerous times over the course of his interviews with police. He would swing between admissions of being present at the time Karen Price was murdered, confirming Alan Charlton as the killer, to claims he did not know and had never met Karen Price, Alan Charlton or the female witness. Other accounts would confirm much of ‘D’s statements but claim it was he that killed Karen Price through strangulation after being forced to by Alan Charlton.
The underlying details of his story appeared to be that Alan Charlton wanted both girls to work for him and was keeping Karen Price in his basement flat, possibility tied up. When she refused to work for him there was a belief she would go to the police and both Alan Charlton and Idris Ali would be in trouble for the sex parties with the girls they had been involved in. Either Alan Charlton strangled Karen Price making Ali hold her hands and the young woman her legs while he did so or Charlton forced Idris Ali to strangle her while he watched on. He also claimed that ‘D’ was present during the murder and said she helped both himself and Charlton bury Karen’s body in the garden after she had been kept inside a cupboard for four days while they worked out what to do with her.
After his statements, Idris Ali was arrested and Alan Charlton’s arrest followed on 23 February 1990. Charlton denied all knowledge or involvement in the death of Karen Price, however, a further witness came forward, a friend of Idris Ali’s brother who claimed that Alan Charlton had admitted raping and murdering Karen Price while he was in prison. Both men were charged with the murder of Karen Price and held on bail to await trial.
The proximity of Karen’s body to the backdoor of Alan Charlton’s flat, the carpet she was wrapped in being identical to the carpet inside of his flat and a number of witnesses reporting Charlton’s activities within his garden at the time of the murder all proved to be damning evidence against Alan Charlton, supporting the statements made by both witness ‘D’ and Idris Ali. On 26 February 1991 in the Cardiff Crown Court, both Alan Charlton and Idris Ali were found guilty of murder and given prison sentences. Appeals by both men in 1994 resulted in Alan Charlton remaining behind bars and Idris Ali given a new trial.
Idris Ali’s original conviction was quashed and a retrial ordered based on evidence from two consultant psychologists that Ali had a ‘borderline mental handicap’ and that he was ‘compliant albeit not unduly suggestible’. Appeal judges felt this information was creditable and may have impacted a verdict had it been known at his first trial. At this retrial, Idris Ali decided to plead guilty to manslaughter and was released from prison for time already served.
In 2014, Alan Charlton once again appealed his conviction based on suggestions by his lawyers that the same South Wales Police investigating officers who had been involved in and reprimanded for the methods used within the cases of Lynette White and Philip Saunders, had been involved in his case. They believed misconduct ‘relating to the detention, treatment and questioning of persons by police officers,’ had taken place and through the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) and the Court of Appeal, these convictions would be quashed. Although Idris Ali did not appeal his conviction for manslaughter in 1994, he now claimed in his own appeal his confession to the murder of Karen Price was not true and he had simply confessed to get out of prison. Both appeals also criticized the evidence given by witness ‘D’ and claimed it was unreliable and should not have formed the main body of the criminal case against them. London’s Court of Appeal on 8 March 2016, however, rejected both appeals, leaving the convictions against both men in place.
Karen Price was a young girl who already suffered in her life, finding herself living in a children’s home and in search of love and attention. In meeting Alan Charlton and Idris Ali in 1981 her life ended before it had begun. It took 10 years for the truth about what happened to her to emerge and those who took her life to protect themselves from the consequences of their own actions to be punished, but eventually, Karen Price did receive justice.