Fred West investigation: Man believes he was last person to see Mary Bastholm alive

Alan Watkins told police what he saw, but says he was never asked for a follow-up statement. Credit: BPM Media/Gloucestershire Live

A former news reporter believes he was the last person to see a missing teenager at the centre of a Fred West investigation alive.

But retired hack Alan Watkins says he was never asked by police for a follow-up statement after telling them what he saw.

The 74-year-old says he saw the teenager waiting for a bus before a van pulled up alongside her. When he saw the van drive off, the girl he saw wasn't there.

Mary Bastholm disappeared 53 years ago, on January 6, 1968. The 15-year-old's disappearance was later linked to serial killer Fred West.

Last week Gloucestershire Police began investigating at a Gloucester city centre cafe after being alerted to "possible evidence" of human remains by an ITV documentary team. The crew are making a documentary about serial killer Fred West – fronted by Trevor McDonald.

Police have been at The Clean Plate Cafe in Southgate Street since Friday 7 May and now plan to carry out excavation works.

Mary worked at the cafe - which was then known as the Pop-In cafe - as a waitress and West was a regular customer.

She was last seen at a bus stop in Bristol Road and no trace of her has ever been found. It is believed Mary was at the stop on the way to visit her boyfriend and play Monopoly.

Alan Watkins believe he was the last person to see Mary. Credit: BPM Media/Gloucestershire Live

Mr Watkins, then a young reporter who was in his early 20s, claims to have seen her while he was waiting at the bus shelter on the opposite side of the road at about 7.20pm. He had just left his grandmother’s house to go home in Longlevens.

He said: “I saw this girl on the other side of the road and she had a bag. It was reasonably well lit but very dark. It had just started to snow, not heavily but it was snowing. So you get the flurries of snow going across.”

Mr Watkins said a grey Standard Atlas van pulled up beside her bus stop, although he admitted artificial lighting could have changed his perception of the colour of the vehicle.

“Somebody spoke to the girl,” he said. “I didn’t take too much notice, I was thinking about where my bus was.

“Then I looked across and I saw the back of the van drive off and the girl wasn’t there.

“And that I think was when she was picked up by her killer or killers.”

The former solicitor of West’s wife, Rose West, has alleged Mary was the couple’s first murdered victim together.

Mr Watkins says he is positive the young girl he saw was Mary Bastholm, having seen a photo circulated in appeals to find her.

He worked for a news agency called Hyett’s Agency, based in St Michael’s Square, the neighbouring street to Cromwell Street where West lived.

His agency provided articles for various publications, such as the Birmingham Post and The Mail.

During the morning press conference with Gloucestershire Police, he recalls how the missing girl was discussed and then how they moved on to other topics.

“We were so curious because there were so many people involved looking for her that early after she disappeared,” said Mr Watkins.

“I held back after the conference was finished and spoke to Inspector Arthur Merrett who was in charge of the press conference that morning and told him what I had seen.”

He said the inspector responded “very interesting” but that was the end of it as “he didn’t seem to be wildly enthusiastic to know any more”.

Mr Watkins said: “Now for whatever reason, I was never asked to make a statement. I was never questioned by CID [Crime Investigation Department]. It just died with that report I made to the police.

“I thought it was strange at the time and I still think it’s strange 50-odd years later. I still find it frustrating.”

A spokesman for Gloucestershire Constabulary said: "Currently we are focusing our efforts into investigating the potential evidence found by a production company specifically related to the disappearance of Mary Bastholm.

"After we have completed this work we will review whether any other activity or enquiries are needed."

The force initially said in a statement, forensic teams will be carrying out a major crimes investigation at The Clean Plate for “number of weeks” while they search for human remains.

The forensic team is using geophysical survey equipment in the cellar to carry out assessments and they have not yet made the decision to carry out an excavation.

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