London - A police force was accused of glorifying killers on Tuesday for offering a £75 (R1 400) overnight ‘ghost hunt’ at a custody block where serial murderer Fred West was held.
West Midlands Police advertised the Halloween sleepover at the mothballed Steelhouse Lane police station on its Facebook page.
The event promises a ‘unique opportunity to spend an entire night on a ghost-hunting mission’ within the Victorian lock-up in Birmingham city centre on Halloween.
Promotion material had said: ‘These cells were occupied by none other than the original Peaky Blinders, Fred West and many more. Be there if you dare!’
But after an outcry, advertisers on Tuesday stripped all reference to Gloucester farm labourer West, who killed himself in Birmingham’s Winson Green prison on New Year’s Day 1995, while awaiting trial for 12 murders.
Mentions of the 19th Century Birmingham street gang who inspired the BBC drama Peaky Blinders were also removed.
Although the cell block is routinely opened for tours, talks and school trips, residents said the police should not have promoted the name of an infamous serial killer.
Mum-of-three Victoria Sanderson, 45, of Edgbaston, Birmingham, said: ‘It’s fine to hold a fun ghost hunting event but I think the police have gone too far promoting the fact that Fred West was once in their cells.
‘How on earth will the families of those people he murdered feel about the fact that he is being celebrated in this way, and by the police? It’s very distasteful and highly insensitive to the victims and their families.’
Facebook user, Greg Yates, added: ‘Get haunted by Fred West’s ghost and wake up under the patio! What the hell are the cops playing at? Glorifying criminals is possibly the worst look for a police force to have.’
The Halloween event, for over-18s only, starts at 7.30pm and includes ghost stories and tales about the cell’s most notorious criminals. Those taking part will be locked up for the night after three ghost hunting activities, with lights switched out at 1.30am and cell doors opened at 7am. The police force are listed as co-organisers along with ghost hunt event company Haunted Houses, with the tickets being sold through an online box office service – Eventbrite.
Inside the lock-up, the Peaky Blinders gang members’ original mugshots are on display, showing them in their trademark flat caps. The ghosts of members of the gang were rumoured to haunt the tunnel leading to the magistrates court behind the three-storey custody block.
The Grade II-listed custody block, which dated from 1892, closed in 2016. The 1930s police station which was built on the same site shut the following January. West was held in its Victorian cells before his transfer to Winson Green. Steelhouse Lane’s 12x12ft cells also housed Nottinghamshire tool repairer Michael Sams, who was jailed for life in 1993 over the kidnap of estate agent Stephanie Slater and the murder of prostitute Julie Dart.
A police spokesman said: ‘The ghost-hunting mission within the Victorian lock-up in Birmingham city centre, run independently of West Midlands Police, is an event to raise money for modern slavery charity Hope for Justice.
‘On reflection, the organiser of the event has agreed that using his name was insensitive and has therefore removed it from any advertising of this event.’