Gill Moran was held hostage and violated by an axe-wielding maniac
Frozen with fear: She was held hostage and violated by an axe-wielding maniac, but – as the second extract from a chilling new book reveals – when Gill Moran was sent out to buy supplies for her attacker, she was too terrified to scream for help…
- Billy Hughes, 28, escaped police custody while travelling from prison to court
- He then broke into a remote farmhouse in Derbyshire and took hostage a family
- Gill Moran had chance to raise the alarm and stop ‘Mad Billy’ murdering them
Senseless, callous and utterly random, the Pottery Cottage Murders in Derbyshire in 1977 appalled the nation.
On Saturday, the first extract from a blood-chilling new book on the horrendous crime recounted how Billy Hughes, a violent offender being taken from prison to court, launched an audacious escape, knifing two of the accompanying policemen.
He then broke into a remote farmhouse and took hostage a family of five — including a ten-year-old-girl, Sarah, whom he beat, bound and gagged.
In part two of our gripping serialisation, Sarah’s mother, Gill Moran, has a chance to raise the alarm and stop ‘Mad Billy’ Hughes from murdering them all…
Pictured: Billy Hughes, a violent offender being taken from prison to court, who launched an audacious escape from police custody
Day Two, Thursday, January 13, 1977
‘GET UP,’ Billy Hughes instructed as he came into Gill Moran’s bedroom. She shuffled on to the edge of the bed, where the night before he had forced her to perform a sex act on him, and managed to sit up as he untied her wrists and ankles.
She was going out, he told her, to get newspapers for him and to see if there were any police roadblocks.
As she did her hair, Gill gazed at her reflection in the mirror. Bruising mottled her body. There was a bite mark on her neck.
Hughes watched as she dressed and started applying her make-up. ‘Where’s Sarah?’ she asked him, desperate for news of her ten-year-old daughter.
‘Sound asleep in your mum’s spare room,’ he replied, speaking almost as if he were a member of the family. ‘I’ve covered her over.’
He’d also fed the dogs and checked on Sarah’s pet rabbit, he said.
Suddenly, Hughes shouted to her to look outside. In the gravel courtyard, a council lorry was reversing, its sensors beeping. ‘They’ve come to empty the septic tank,’ she told Hughes.
‘Then deal with them,’ he said fiercely. ‘And act normal.’
Hughes (pictured middle with friends) broke into a remote farmhouse and took hostage a family of five — including a ten-year-old-girl, Sarah, whom he beat, bound and gagged
Gill took a deep breath, went outside and spoke to the tanker driver and his mate. When they had finished the job, she signed the invoice and they left. She had desperately wanted to whisper something or write the word ‘Help’ across the paperwork, but she knew Hughes was watching from a window. If the men had reacted in any way, he would have seen.
Gill walked towards the lounge and caught sight of her father, Arthur, slumped in an armchair, with a blue anorak covering him. He wasn’t moving and was unnaturally silent. His artificial right leg protruded at a peculiar angle.
She tried to go to him, but Hughes seized her arm and propelled her out of the room. Arthur was merely sleeping, he told her, but he refused to allow her anywhere near the lounge again.
Hughes now made her ring the accountancy firm she worked for in Chesterfield and call in sick, which she did. ‘She sounded normal,’ the secretary who took the call remembered.
Hughes next made her ring Sarah’s school and her husband Richard’s office, saying they were ill and wouldn’t be coming in.
The phone calls made, Hughes nudged Gill towards the front door. He unlocked it and let her out. ‘Get the papers and 40 fags,’ he said as she got into her car. ‘Remember I’ve got your family here, Gill. Don’t do anything stupid.’
‘I won’t, she said. ‘I promise.’
As she drove the five miles down to the village of Brampton, she felt a dizzying sense of being disconnected from reality.
Around her, people were just getting on with their lives. ‘If only they knew what’s happening at my house,’ she agonised. Walking into the newsagents, she saw a stand of local newspapers with headlines screaming: ‘Dangerous hijacker still free: hostage fear’.
Her hands were trembling as she picked up the papers and bought cigarettes.
She headed home through heavy falls of snow, relieved there were no road blocks where she might be tempted to speak to the police and put her family in danger.
This was the first occasion that Gill was away from Hughes with the opportunity to raise the alarm and get help. It would not be the last, all of which would later leave people at pains to understand why she had kept silent.
The search for an explanation even led to pernicious and unfounded gossip in some quarters that she knew Hughes before his escape and that there had been some sort of relationship between them.
‘It was categorically untrue,’ said Chief Inspector Peter Howse, who led the hunt for Hughes. The fact is that she was repulsed by him in every way but felt she had no choice but to obey him, in the hope that he might then keep his promise and leave.
Back home, Gill went inside but saw no sign of her father in the armchair.
‘Where’s Dad?’ she asked.
‘In his bedroom,’ Hughes told her as he grabbed the newspapers and began to read.
Pictured: Richard and Gill Moran with their 10-year-old daughter Sarah, who were taken hostage by Billy Hughes
With his permission, she made drinks for everyone. Hughes went off to the annexe — the separate part of Pottery Cottage behind a connecting door, which was the grandparents’ quarters — carrying a cup of coffee for Arthur and a glass of Ribena for Sarah, while Gill went upstairs with drinks for Richard and her mother.
Richard was in the spare room, bound but not gagged. As they talked together quietly, Hughes appeared and ushered her into her own bedroom. There he shoved her on to the bed, told her to undress and made her repeat the sex act on him she had been forced to do the night before.
‘When he had finished he put on his clothes and so did I. He went to the room Richard was in and I could hear them talking but not what they said. He was carrying the knife.’
Downstairs in the kitchen, she heated some cans of soup.
Hughes brought Richard in and dumped him on the floor. Gill looked down at her husband, appalled by his pained, exhausted face and the purple swelling of his hands from the flex wound tight around his wrists.
She knelt down to help him eat, but he could barely sip the soup from the bowl she held to his lips.
Hughes grabbed a whisky bottle, poured a large measure and made Gill drink. He gave some to Richard, too, and took some upstairs to Amy. He told them he fully intended to leave that evening, but, until then, they needed to find some way of passing the time.
‘Have you got any cards?’ he asked. Over the next couple of hours, a bizarre conviviality enveloped the four of them.
‘We played rummy and then he tried to teach us a game called Chinese Patience,’ Gill recalled. Between them, they drained the bottle of whisky.
Hughes made no attempt to contain his prisoners, confident that they were now tied to him by far stronger bonds: those of automatic compliance, a psychological state induced by extreme fear.
They were all in Sarah’s bedroom now, alongside the little girl’s trophy she had won for sports at school, her cycling proficiency certificate and the cot where her dolls slept. The familiarity of it all was calming.
Sarah and her grandfather were supposedly on the other side of the wall, in the annexe. Hughes gave assurances that they were OK. ‘Mum had said to Billy a number of times how worried she was about Dad,’ Gill recalled.
‘Billy always replied that he was all right and that Sarah was looking after him. He said that Sarah was only tied with a pair of tights and that neither was gagged. I had asked him why Sarah didn’t call out. He said it was because he’d told her not to.’
Gill found it odd, though, that there was no sound coming from the annexe. ‘We never heard the toilet flush or anything.’
It was strange, too, that Sarah had failed to asked for her ‘comfort’ toys, a rolled up towel and an elephant that she needed to soothe her to sleep. When Gill put this to Hughes, he said Sarah had never mentioned them. ‘She’s quite happy in there with your dad.’
But, pressed by Gill, he agreed to take the items through to the little girl. ‘She was really pleased to see them,’ he said when he came back.
Pictured: The converted barn called Pottery Cottage, which Hughes broke into in January 1977
Gill took comfort from this and from an occasion later, when a chatty Hughes talked about his own daughter, Nichola, passing round her photograph and adding how much he loved her.
His words gave Gill hope for her own daughter’s safety.
What no one inside Pottery Cottage knew was that the police were close by. They had spent the afternoon working their way steadily down the road and reached the Highwayman Inn, 200 yards away, where the manager had a newspaper photograph of Hughes propped up on his till.
The search team checked the outbuildings of the pub but found nothing and returned to Chesterfield. They never got as far as Pottery Cottage.
That evening, Gill begged Hughes to let Sarah sleep with her. ‘She must be so frightened. I want to be with her.’ He shook his head.
Gill herself was too wired to sleep. Her husband and mother were in great distress, but at least she knew where they were. Worryingly, she hadn’t seen or heard any activity from her daughter or her father for many hours.
And he was still there, unpredictable and dangerous.
Day 3, Friday, January 14, 1977
The next morning, Hughes looked at Gill and Richard. ‘You two are going into town to do some shopping. I need a lot of things, so make a list.’
Gill felt Richard’s body tense with anticipation. Here was their chance to raise the alarm.
Hughes reeled off the things he wanted in order to make good his escape—- a gas camping stove, a saucepan, six tins of Irish stew, tomato soup, vegetable soup, 24 cans of light ale, a half-bottle of Bell’s whisky, cigarettes, the newspapers. ‘Oh, and a tin opener.’
He handed over £25 he’d stolen from them earlier. ‘And get a present for Sarah as well — she’s been really good.’
‘Thanks, Billy. You are kind,’ Gill forced herself to say. Anything to keep him sweet and increase their chances of survival.
Through the snow, she and her husband headed off in the car.
‘This was the first time that Richard and I had been able to talk together freely,’ Gill recalled.
Richard spoke first, his voice low and desperate. In the past 36 hours he’d been bound and gagged repeatedly until every muscle in his body pulsated with pain. His wife had been subjected to sexual abuse. He was terrified for Sarah, whom they hadn’t seen or heard form for far too long.
‘I can’t take any more, Gill. We’re going to the police.’
Gill snapped back: ‘No! That’s the very last thing we’re going to do.’
To her mind, all the pain, fear and humiliation was borne solely to keep the police at bay. A cavalcade of squad cars arriving at the house would send him haywire and see the whole family dead before the sirens had stopped wailing.
Richard couldn’t believe what she was saying. The police were skilled in dealing with hostage negotiations, he argued.
‘No!’ she screamed again.
‘But I’ve had enough, Gill. How can we take any more?’
‘Because we must,’ she answered fiercely. ‘And if you insist on going to the police, I will never forgive you. Never!’
He thought for a while, then agreed. ‘All right,’ he said quietly.
Arriving in Chesterfield, they went from shop to shop buying all the items on Hughes’s list, and chose an Enid Blyton book as the present for Sarah.
Back at the cottage, Hughes unloaded the shopping before telling Gill to boil as many eggs as possible as supplies for his getaway. While 13 simmered in pans on the stove, Gill managed a brief talk with her mother.
Amy was ‘worried’ about Arthur and had asked Hughes if she could go through to the annexe to help him, but Hughes had refused.
Gill followed up by saying she was concerned that Sarah hadn’t asked for any fresh underwear. ‘She’s so particular about cleanliness.’ Hughes said he’d take a clean pair round.
When he came back, he told Gill: ‘Sarah was glad to have them, but she made me turn my back while she changed.’
A wave of relief rushed over Gill; that was exactly the sort of thing her daughter would say. ‘She’s all right then,’ she said gratefully.
‘All right?’ Hughes replied. ‘She’s even got the radio on.’ And Gill believed him, especially after she cooked lunch and he took two plates of food through to the annexe for Sarah and Arthur.
In the kitchen, a bizarre domestic scene played out.
‘Richard and Billy drank some beer,’ Gill recalled, ‘and I washed up.’ Afterwards, they went up to the main bedroom because Billy wanted to try on one of Gill’s wigs. He stood in front of a mirror, grinning and saying: ‘I look quite sexy, don’t I?’
He then had a bath, leaving Gill, her mother and husband talking in hushed voices, feeling quietly confident that the end of their ordeal was in sight.
‘We didn’t think of escaping, we just wanted him out of the way,’ she recalled. ‘We couldn’t take the chance of anyone getting hurt.’
But Hughes still needed money before he felt able to go. There must be some cash at the plastics firm in Chesterfield where Richard was a director, he decided. They must drive him there.
He tied up Amy to make sure she couldn’t get away and they set off.
‘Richard drove, I was next to him in the front, Billy sat in the back,’ Gill said. ‘He had the knife. I prayed there would be a lot of petty cash so that he would finally go. All I could do was hope.’
When they arrived at the factory, Richard reported to a manager that he was on site and going to his office to get some papers.
The three of them went to the accountant’s office, which Hughes ransacked before taking three wage packets from the safe and a wad of notes and some bags of silver from a drawer. The total haul was £210.
As they drove back to Pottery Cottage, Hughes was reassuring. ‘Don’t worry,’ he said. ‘I’ll soon be on my way.’
There, he told Gill to collect all his shopping together in bags. It seemed he really was going. ‘But you’re coming with me,’ he said to Gill. She stared at him. ‘No.’
‘It’s all right,’ he said. ‘I’ll stop another car on the way, rob the driver, then take him or her with me. I’ll leave you, your car and the keys.’ And Gill somehow convinced herself he meant it.
As he tied up Amy and Richard again, Hughes assured them: ‘This is the last time.’
He even left the gags off and put a jug of water nearby. Then he and Gill left together.
They had gone several miles when the mercurial Hughes had another of his changes of mind. He said he’d left an AA book of maps at the cottage and needed it. They would have to go back.
Gill was aghast. ‘It’s ridiculous!’ she shouted at him, momentarily forgetting the danger of antagonising him. ‘We can stop at any garage to buy maps! For God’s sake, Billy, keep going!’ He shook his head.
So they went back to Pottery Cottage, yet again. There he went inside, leaving her sitting in the car and trying not to wonder if there was any sinister reason for him insisting on returning there.
He was gone longer than she had expected. Suddenly, she heard him call from the lounge window: ‘I won’t be long, Gill, I’m going to see Dad and Sarah.’
Not long after, he appeared at a run and got in the car. She caught a wild look in his eyes before he leaned forward to start the car.
Nothing happened. He turned the key again but the car failed to start. A light was on at a neighbour’s house and, seeing this, Hughes told Gill to go there and ask for a tow to get them going. Gill was panic-stricken: ‘I can’t involve them, Billy.’
But he insisted. ‘Make up a story. Tell them your friend is in hospital and you need to get her husband there. Go on — quick!’
Gill stumbled across to her neighbours, the Newmans, and found Len Newman in the garden. ‘It’s me, Gillian,’ she called out.
He thought she looked terrible, her face ashen, hair unkempt, hands working frantically at the fabric of her coat.
Her words came out in a tumble: ‘Len, can you do me a big favour and give us a tow. I’ve got to run my friend’s husband home.’ Len frowned. ‘Where’s Richard?’
Gill’s voice dropped to a whisper and she gave a small, high laugh, patting him on the cheek with her hand. ‘He’s tied up in a chair. It’s the man from the moors, he’s listening. He’ll kill us all.’
At first Len didn’t understand. ‘Are you drunk?’ he asked. Then the penny dropped. ‘I’ll get my car,’ he said, knowing he needed to get to a telephone because there wasn’t one at his house. He went inside and blurted out what was happening to his wife, Joyce.
Len left to go to his garage to get his car when he caught sight of Amy Minton in the garden of Pottery Cottage. She was leaning against the wall, pain distorting her face, before she dropped out of sight.
Len armed himself with a spade, telling his wife they were ‘in mortal danger’. Then the two of them got into his car and, tyres screeching, hurtled on to the road and away.
When Hughes, impatiently waiting in the snow, saw this he went berserk. ‘You’ve f***ing told him!’ he yelled at Gill. ‘I haven’t! Billy, I haven’t!’ she screamed back.
Then she gasped as she saw her mother staggering very slowly towards her. A glutinous dark stain was seeping from her throat on to her blue housecoat.
‘Mum!’ Gill’s hysterical scream spiralled up into the night sky. ‘Mum!’
The Pottery Cottage Murders by Carol Ann Lee & Peter Howse, published on March 5 by Robinson at £18.99. © Carol Ann Lee & Peter Howse 2020. To buy a copy for £15.20 (20 per cent discount; p&p free) go to mailshop.co.uk or call 01603 648155. Offer valid until April 30, 2020.
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