The unsolved murder of a frail 94-year-old Huddersfield spinster shocked the town in 1996. Andrew Robinson reports on the chances of anyone now being brought to justice for a crime that shocked Huddersfield.
Twenty-two years may have passed but Dorothy Wood’s former neighbours haven’t forgotten her.
Next door neighbour Hemant Dutta still cherishes photos from Miss Wood’s 90th birthday party which she keeps in an envelope alongside newspaper cuttings about the hunt for her murderer.
Mrs Dutta, 80, remembers that Miss Wood was proud of her house and garden but was vulnerable to burglars because she was deaf and sometimes forgot to lock her doors.
She says Miss Wood was a lovely lady who valued her independence and didn’t enjoy people making a fuss.
The discovery of the retired school nurse’s body at her immaculate home in Whitby Avenue, Fartown, on May 7, 1996 left everyone in deep shock.
Two decades later there is still a plaque on a bench on Whitby Avenue in her memory, although the plaque and bench have been damaged by vandals.
“I still think about what happened,” says Mrs Dutta. “It should not have happened to an old lady like that.”
Mrs Dutta recalls two friends of Miss Wood, Roy and Phyllis Smith, running around to her house in tears after they had found Miss Wood's body.
She said: “Roy and Phyllis came round crying, saying ‘they have killed her’. Somebody had been into her house and killed her. We rang the police.”
Mr and Mrs Smith had arrived at their friend’s semi-detached home just after 8am expecting to help her out of bed and make her breakfast.
The knew something was wrong when they found the front door ajar and the outside light switched on. They found the telephone had been pulled from the socket.
Speaking at the time, Mr Smith said: “We opened the door to her bedroom and saw clothes on the floor. I just knew straight away that she was dead.
“She was laid on the bed in her pyjamas and all the bedclothes were pulled off her.”
Mr Smith, who had been friends with Miss Wood for many years, had described his friend as so weak she hardly had the strength to do the washing up. She was also deaf.
Detectives revealed that the spinster had been suffocated in her bed in a downstairs room and may have known her killer.
They stated that two burglars may have broken into her home through a window next to her downstairs bed and killed her for the sake of just £10.
Detectives also revealed that Miss Wood had also suffered two sneak-in thefts in March that year and had been burgled in 1993. It was reported that no-one was caught for any of these crimes.
Det Supt Gary Haigh, who led the inquiry, said at the time: “It may well be that she recognised the killer after seeing him in the area before.
“Or she may have been killed to stop her raising the alarm.
“It could be that the murderer lives in that area of Huddersfield and the answer as to who killed Miss Wood may rest with the local community there.”
As the days went by more became known about Miss Wood. She had spent many years as a health visitor, midwife and school nurse before retiring.
It was her proud boast that she knew by name almost every one of the 3,000-plus children who came under her care in the Colne Valley.
Miss Wood looked after pupils at three Marsden schools and two in Slaithwaite.
Police later charged local man Mark Dallagher, of Fartown, with Miss Wood’s murder. His conviction was overturned seven years later.
The main prosecution evidence was that Dallagher left a unique earprint on the window of Miss Wood’s home, consistent with a burglary technique he admitted using in the past.
The Crown also relied on evidence from a fellow prisoner that Dallagher allegedly admitted he was involved in the murder.
When arrested for Miss Wood’s murder, Dallagher was serving a nine-month jail term for burglary.
His conviction for murder was quashed by the Court of Appeal in 2002 and a re-trial was ordered.
Dallagher was bailed while a six-month investigation was carried out.
Expert opinion on the reliability of earprint evidence was tested and new genetic techniques used on the earprints failed to prove it came from Dallagher.
This called into question the original “groundbreaking” techniques used to link Dallagher to the print.
New confidential information about Miss Wood’s death was also received and the prosecution decided not to rely on the fellow prisoner’s evidence about Dallagher.
In 2004 the prosecution dropped the case and offered no evidence against Dallagher.
His counsel James Sturman QC said the original conviction was “a grotesque miscarriage of justice.”
He added: “This is another example of dangers of police perhaps following science too closely.”
After the verdict West Yorkshire Police said no new murder investigation would be launched.
In a joint statement with the Crown Prosecution Service in 2004 the police said the Court of Appeal had not criticised the way the prosecution presented its case at the original trial.
The statement said: “The appeal was allowed because evidence, which has only recently been obtained by the defence, might have made a difference to the outcome of the original trial.
“Having re-examined the case the Force has not found any evidence to lead to the prosecution of any other suspects for the murder of Dorothy Wood.
“Therefore, we consider the matter closed until any further admissible evidence comes to light.”
This week West Yorkshire Police, when asked to comment on the Dorothy Wood case, said cases were not closed until the person responsible was brought to justice.
Det Supt Jim Dunkerley of the Protective Services (Crime) Department, said: “Achieving justice for victims of crime is always a top priority for West Yorkshire Police – especially for murder victims.
“We never close a case until the person or persons responsible have been brought to justice.
“I would also like to appeal directly to anyone who may hold information about any unsolved murder in West Yorkshire to come forward and tell police what they know.”
But neighbour Hemant Dutta doesn’t hold out much hope of the case being solved.
“It must be on the conscience of somebody - they are living with it; I don’t know how. Let’s hope someone’s conscience is pricked - but I doubt it.”
Call police on 101 if you have any information or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.