'Slow and painstaking work' - searching for the remains of suspected Fred West victim Mary Bastholm in Gloucester

  • Footage filmed inside the cellar of the Clean Plate cafe

Gloucestershire police have released images of the basement of a cafe that could reveal the remains of a possible victim of serial killer Fred West.

Work to excavate the former Pop-In cafe in Gloucester is underway but it is a slow and painstaking process, according to Crime Scene Co-ordinator Martin Cuffe.

15-year-old Mary Bastholm was a waitress there when she went missing in 1968. Fred West was a regular customer at the time and had done work on the building.

An ITV documentary team working at the site, now called the Clean Plate Cafe, used ground-penetrating radar in the basement and found a blue material. Mary was wearing a blue dress and a blue coat and had a blue bag when she disappeared.

Aerial view of the Clean Plate cafe - where a 'slow and painstaking' investigation is underway. Credit: PA

On 7 May 2021, Gloucestershire Police were called in and used ground-penetrating radar to examine the scene and to see if they could confirm what the ITV crew had found.

Crime scene co-ordinator Martin Cuffe said: "It looks at the way that waves pass through the soil and the material under the earth.

"Then it provides a visual representation of that and what you get is essentially a chart or a graph showing areas of contrast where anomalies under the soil will show up as a very different colour or shade to the soil around it.

"It’s using that technology that the ITV film crew initially, and then our people, have been able to identify the anomalies that we’re looking to investigate during our time at this address."

The team identified anomalies in the structure and six voids. The Senior Investigating Officer then made the decision to excavate the basement. Work began at the building in Southgate Street on Wednesday 19 May.

The first image of the basement of the Clean Plate cafe in Gloucester, which could hold the remains of Mary Bastholm. Credit: Gloucestershire Police

Martin Cuffe explained the difficulties they faced, with officers crawling on hands and knees in some places.

He said: "It’s quite a difficult working environment. It’s quite a cramped space, quite low ceilings. We had some concerns about some hazards that are going to be going on in there, including things like asbestos and air conditioning.

"We’ve looked at a process to apply in there, to ensure that we take a very slow, methodical, painstaking approach to each of the identified anomalies in the cellar so that, not only can we make sure we identify anything that’s in there, but to give us the opportunity to identify any potential for trace evidence or any other evidential recovery that might have to come up as part of that.

"So part of that is very much recording and making a very good visual record of the scene as well as 3D laser-scanning and all these things at our disposal. But then there's the very careful excavation and removal of each layer – whether that be some of the concrete. I think the noise of our pneumatic drill has been heard as we’ve chipped through layers of concrete."

The force sent in experts who determined that there was no problem with asbestos in the cellar.

Police and forensic officers removing rubble from the Clean Plate cafe ready for further examination. Credit: ITV West Country

He added: "Then taking layers of subsoil and residue out so that it can be examined. All the material that’s been taken away has to be subject to a further examination.

"So that we’ve got an area where we’re sieving through all that material to make sure there’s nothing that has been missed while we’ve been excavating.

"Then we’ve got a requirement until we’ve completely investigated and excluded any anomaly of being something of interest that we’re having to retain all that soil just in case we have to revisit it later on.

"But it is just very slow, painstaking work."

All the material from the excavation of the cafe will be kept until investigators are sure it has released all its evidence. Credit: ITV West Country

Martin Cuffe said: "The SIO has made the very clear direction for us that, at the end of this investigation, we want to be completely satisfied that there is definitely nothing in that basement that we’ve missed and so we are making sure that we do that, take a verymethodical approach to everything we do."

An extensive team has been brought in for the excavation and examination of material.

Martin Cuffe said: "We’ve got teams of archaeologists and anthropologists on site so some of those are involved in the physical excavation of the anomalies.

"We’ve then got some of our search officers who are involved in the physical manoeuvring of any debris and soil that’s dug out, taking that up to another location where we have search officers and another archaeologist anthropologist overseeing the examination of that material.""If at any point they identify something when they’re sieving through, be that a section of bone, the people on site will be able to help us identify whether that’s something of human origin or possibly even if it’s of animal origin, or it’s just something otherwise.

"We’ve also got my team, the Scenes of Crime department, on site, so if there are things that are not relatable to human remains but items that might be of physical interest to the inquiry, maybe an item of property, then when those are identified during the sieving, we can suitably recover document, package holders as well. So we’ve got quite a robust process in place."

Gloucestershire Police want to be 100% sure they don't miss anything at the site. Credit: PA

If any remains are found, what then? How can the team prove they are Mary's?

Martin Cuffe said: "We can do a direct comparison to any known dental records and then the other option is DNA and we’ve got that consideration that we can look for DNA profiling from anything we recover and we can look to seek reference profiles from existing members of the family with the aim of trying to show that familial link between the two.

Asked if he was confident that, once the process is over, he could say whether Mary Bastholm was at the cafe, Martin Cuffe said: "This strategy that we’re applying to this examination is that, when we are finished, we will be incredibly confident that she is not there – or that we are going to find her."