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Final heartstopping extract of The Pottery Cottage Murders

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In January 1977, Billy Hughes, a vicious, escaped convict, held a family of five at knifepoint at Pottery Cottage in the remote Derbyshire countryside, terrorising and torturing them. 

Yesterday, in the second extract from a blood-chilling new book on a horrendous crime that shocked the nation, we recounted how Gill Moran tried desperately to appease Hughes in the hopes that he would free her family — including her ten-year-old daughter. 

In the final part of our gripping serialisation, Hughes has made his getaway, taking Gill as his hostage… 

Day Three, Friday January 14, 1977: The final hours

Gill Moran’s fragile grip on reality was at breaking point. She had been sexually assaulted. She had watched helplessly as her husband and mother were bound and gagged.

A photo of Sarah Moran, aged 10, the adopted daughter of Gill and Richard Moran

A photo of Sarah Moran, aged 10, the adopted daughter of Gill and Richard Moran

A photo of Sarah Moran, aged 10, the adopted daughter of Gill and Richard Moran

She had not seen her ten-year-old daughter Sarah and pensioner father for days and feared for their safety.

And all the while she had felt the need to go along with the wishes of the thuggish Billy Hughes, the escaped prisoner holding her family hostage, in the hope that he would not harm them further.

That’s why for days she had not dared raise the alarm, though she had had opportunities to do so.

But now everything was unravelling at Pottery Cottage.

She had seen her mortally wounded mother Amy staggering towards her before falling to the ground in a pool of blood. Hughes then hauled her mother’s body away, leaving shallow trenches in the snow where her heels dragged.

Gill shook uncontrollably, murmuring: ‘Is it true? Am I going mad?’ She answered herself: ‘Yes, this is madness. It’s me. I’ve gone mad, I am insane.’

She turned and ran in desperation to get away… only to career right into Hughes. He’d piled snow over the body and now was desperate to flee the scene, but the car he was expecting to escape in had stalled and would not restart.

What’s more, he knew a neighbour had twigged what was happening at Pottery Cottage and had sent for the police.

A panicked Hughes grabbed Gill’s hand and forced her to run, from the house, up to the top of the drive, then along the road.

‘Every time a car came along, he pulled me into the ditch,’ she said. ‘When I held my head up hoping someone would see me, he pushed me down again.’

They crawled along the ditch in the darkness until Hughes saw two cottages. One was the home of Ron Frost, a mechanic. They knocked on the door.

Ron Frost knew Gillian Moran by sight but was surprised to see her on his doorstep, along with a strange man, both of them soaked to the skin and filthy. ‘We’ve broken down,’ Gill explained, and he agreed to help them out.

Collect of Richard and Gill Moran with their daughter Sarah. In the final part of our gripping serialisation, Billy Hughes has made his getaway, taking Gill as his hostage

Collect of Richard and Gill Moran with their daughter Sarah. In the final part of our gripping serialisation, Billy Hughes has made his getaway, taking Gill as his hostage

Collect of Richard and Gill Moran with their daughter Sarah. In the final part of our gripping serialisation, Billy Hughes has made his getaway, taking Gill as his hostage

The three of them climbed into the front seat of his pick-up truck to drive to Pottery Cottage. Gill sat in the middle, clinging to Ron. ‘He was safety to me.’

Ron was alarmed by her odd behaviour: ‘All the way down the road she was digging me in the ribs with her hand. I thought this was very strange.’ He wondered who the young man with her was.

The news was full of the escaped prisoner and the police manhunt for him over the snowbound moors. It crossed his mind it might be Hughes.

At Pottery Cottage, he tied the tow rope from the car to the truck but the snow was so deep it took three attempts to get the car out of the driveway.

They finally made it and, with Ron towing them down the road, Hughes switched the ignition on and the engine fired.

Ron unfastened the tow rope and the car accelerated away. Ron headed back home, until he saw figures in the road, flagging him down. The police had arrived at Pottery Cottage.

They had been alerted by the couple living next door, to whom Gill had finally managed to whisper out the truth. They’d phoned Chesterfield Police, who logged the call at 8.09pm.

Escaped prisoner William 'Billy' Hughes, 30, of Boythorpe Crescent, Chesterfield

Escaped prisoner William 'Billy' Hughes, 30, of Boythorpe Crescent, Chesterfield

Escaped prisoner William ‘Billy’ Hughes, 30, of Boythorpe Crescent, Chesterfield

Officers were immediately dispatched and found the house ablaze with light and music from a radio blaring inside. DS Bill Miller banged on the front door. ‘Police! Is there anyone in here?’

No reply. He broke a window and forced his way in with DC Bob Hassell. The two of them went upstairs, treading carefully around patches of blood on the carpet.

They stopped on the landing, appalled at the sight before them. Richard Moran, Gill’s husband, lay face down, head against a chest of drawers.

Blood saturated his shirt, much of it still wet. White flex was pulled tight in a crude knot about his ankles and orange flex secured his arms behind his back.

He had almost managed to work them free before being stabbed to death. Blood pooled on the carpet from a knife wound to his throat.

William 'Billy' Hughes and his five captives

William 'Billy' Hughes and his five captives

William ‘Billy’ Hughes and his five captives

It was clear he had died only very recently, as had his mother-in-law, Amy. Her body was outside, covered with snow, face down. She had been stabbed multiple times and her throat cut.

Back inside the house, officers found another body. Arthur Minton, Gill’s father, lay on his back, his arms tied behind him.

A suede coat and an anorak had been thrown over him and a large teddy bear dressed in blue and white pyjamas had been thrust on his face in a cruelly stupid gesture.

From the appearance and temperature of his body, it was clear he had been murdered at least two days before.

In the Pottery Cottage annexe they discovered little Sarah, lying in a foetal position on the thick carpet of her grandparents’ bedroom, curled between the bed and an armchair. Her wrists and ankles had been tied with softer material than the flex. She was gagged.

The injuries to her chest and the deep wound at her throat had bled profusely. Nearby, tucked up in an old pillowcase for a bed, a favourite doll slept soundly. This must have been little Sarah’s last act before Hughes murdered her.

Why he chose to do so has never been explained — especially as he had a little girl of his own. Yet he must have killed Sarah very early on, along with her grandfather, perhaps within just hours of infiltrating their home.

Their bodies had lain there for two days, while Hughes carried on the macabre pretence with the others that they were alive and well by taking food to them.

Now, from what had been a close-knit family of five, Gill was the only one left alive — but in the hands of the killer.

AS SHE and Hughes sped through the dark, Gill was completely oblivious to the fact that Pottery Cottage, her home, was now a charnel house containing the bodies of her mother, father, husband and child, all murdered by the man at her side.

‘There’s a car coming up behind us fast,’ Hughes snarled, frowning at the rear-view mirror. ‘It’s a f***ing cop car,’ and he slammed his foot down on the accelerator.

But the pursuing squad car was faster, overtook and, braking hard, came to a halt. The four officers inside jumped out, blocking the road — but Hughes ploughed on, sending them scattering. They took up the chase along the icy road, with Hughes ahead of them reaching speeds of well over 80mph and periodically swinging an axe out of the window.

Ahead, another police car with flashing lights blocked the way but Hughes swerved round it before losing control on a bend. The car spun round and skidded into a drystone wall and was quickly surrounded by police.

Hughes reared over Gill, pulling her head backwards. He had a knife to her throat. ‘Back off, coppers!’ he yelled, ‘or she gets this!’

‘He means it!’ Gill screamed, shaking uncontrollably, and the police stepped back.

‘Get me a car full of petrol,’ he demanded, the knife still pressed against Gill’s throat. ‘Or else.’

DI Geoff Cooper held up his hands. ‘All right. Take my car. The keys are in, and it’s full of petrol.’

Day Three, Friday January 14, 1977: The final hours. Billy Hughes knew a neighbour had twigged what was happening at Pottery Cottage and had sent for the police. A panicked Hughes grabbed Gill’s hand and forced her to run, from the house, up to the top of the drive, then along the road

Day Three, Friday January 14, 1977: The final hours. Billy Hughes knew a neighbour had twigged what was happening at Pottery Cottage and had sent for the police. A panicked Hughes grabbed Gill’s hand and forced her to run, from the house, up to the top of the drive, then along the road

Day Three, Friday January 14, 1977: The final hours. Billy Hughes knew a neighbour had twigged what was happening at Pottery Cottage and had sent for the police. A panicked Hughes grabbed Gill’s hand and forced her to run, from the house, up to the top of the drive, then along the road

Hughes pushed a whimpering Gill out of the crashed car. ‘I could see policemen and I wanted to run to them,’ she said, ‘but he forced me into the other car.’

Then they roared off at top speed, with a convoy of police vehicles in pursuit. But ahead, an ambush was being set up in the tiny village of Rainow, not far from Macclesfield. Police commandeered a single-decker bus and strung it at an angle across the road.

Hughes hurtled into view round a bend at 70mph, mounted the pavement and managed to scrape past the bus in an ear-splitting shriek of metal on metal, before swerving and crashing head-first into a wall.

There were shouts, screams and the sound of breaking glass as he smashed the two rear passenger windows with his axe. Inside the car, Gill — miraculously unhurt, as was Hughes — lifted her head and saw that ‘suddenly, there were policemen all around’.

Hughes quickly pinned Gill down with his body, holding the axe inches from her face. She was hysterical and shook with the shock of it all, making him roar, ‘Can’t you keep your bloody legs still?’

Chief Inspector Peter Howse — in charge of the hunt for Hughes —was on the scene and ran to the crashed car. He bent down at the shattered nearside window and peered into the dark interior.

‘If you come any closer I’ll kill her!’ Hughes shouted.

‘Billy, don’t kill me,’ Gill pleaded.

Howse backed off to assess the situation. Hughes was trapped all right, but so, too, was his hostage. And the policeman had no doubt that attempting to arrest Hughes would result in him attacking her.

The only option was negotiation, to persuade Hughes to release her and give himself up.

Howse crouched by the broken rear window, raising his hands to show he was not armed. ‘There’s only me here now, Billy,’ he said. ‘So let’s talk. There’s no need to harm Gill. Just calm down.’

Gill felt just a little of the terror that had gripped her over the past three days begin to ebb. ‘I have never heard such a wonderful voice in the whole of my life,’ she reflected afterwards. ‘It had such kindness and gentleness in it. And it gave me so much comfort.’

Howse talked on. ‘I don’t think you really want to harm Gill, do you? You’re a family man yourself. You’ve got a wife . . .’

Picture shows Gill and Richard Moran on their wedding day in September 1959 (l-r) Mrs Annie Hawe (Richard's foster mother) Mr George Wheeler (best man) Barbara D'Arnault (Gill's sister) Richard, Gill. Amy Minton and Arthur Minton

Picture shows Gill and Richard Moran on their wedding day in September 1959 (l-r) Mrs Annie Hawe (Richard's foster mother) Mr George Wheeler (best man) Barbara D'Arnault (Gill's sister) Richard, Gill. Amy Minton and Arthur Minton

Picture shows Gill and Richard Moran on their wedding day in September 1959 (l-r) Mrs Annie Hawe (Richard’s foster mother) Mr George Wheeler (best man) Barbara D’Arnault (Gill’s sister) Richard, Gill. Amy Minton and Arthur Minton

‘I’m not bothered about her!’ Hughes shouted back in fury. ‘No f***er cares about me — and I intend to take every f***er with me if I have to.’

‘All right,’ said Howse. ‘But think about this lady here — she’s looked after you for three days, hasn’t she? She’s done everything for you, and you must think a lot of her after all she’s done. Be fair now, give her a chance.’

‘She’s been all right,’ Hughes said grudgingly. ‘But you try anything and she’s dead.’

He raised the axe closer to Gill’s skull, causing her to scream. ‘Listen to me: I want a car with a blue light and a working radio. I’ll take her with me but I’ll let her out on the motorway.’

Gill asked in a small voice, ‘Is that right, Billy? You’ll let me go?’ Hughes nodded. ‘You’re coming with me but I’ll drop you off, you’ll be all right.’ Gill said nothing. ‘I’d got past believing him by then,’ she recalls.

Howse shook his head. ‘You can have the car, Billy, but I want the woman. Give me your word on that and you can have the car.’

‘Billy, please,’ Gill begged. ‘Give him your word.’

Howse switched tack. ‘If I let you have a car, Billy, how far do you think you’ll get? You might as well give yourself up now. What can they do to you except send you to prison for a while?’

‘I’m not going to prison ever again!’ Hughes roared back. ‘I’ll take all you b******s with me when I go before that happens! And I’ll kill her for sure if you don’t get me another car.’

‘I’ll do that,’ Howse said. ‘But only if you let her go. Then you can take me as your hostage. I’ll drive and you can sit behind me with your knife and the axe. I’ll drive you wherever you want to go.

‘Come on, Billy, I’m giving you the chance to take the easy way out. I want your word, Billy. About her. Look at me.’

‘All right then,’ Hughes said.

B ut just at that moment a security light clicked on in a nearby property, illuminating the car and causing Hughes to go berserk. He accused Howse of trying to trap him. Then he noticed two officers crouched close by. ‘Get those two b******s to back off!’ he shouted.

Howse called for the men to withdraw. But now Hughes was getting impatient. ‘Time is running out,’ he shouted, and made more demands. He wanted the getaway car parked facing Macclesfield. He also wanted cigarettes.

Picture shows Richard Moran, Amy Minton, Arthur Minton and Gill Moran

Picture shows Richard Moran, Amy Minton, Arthur Minton and Gill Moran

Picture shows Richard Moran, Amy Minton, Arthur Minton and Gill Moran

Howse left to do his bidding, and not long after, a police patrol car was driven forward and left with the engine running.

Meanwhile, back among the vast throng of officers now gathered in Rainow, Howse briefed two firearms officers armed with Smith & Wesson .38-calibre revolvers, each loaded with five bullets.

In the dark, they were confident they could get close enough to the driver’s side of the car to be in a position to shoot if necessary.

Howse outlined a plan: when Hughes moved to the new car, parked alongside the crashed one, no doubt using Gill as his shield, Howse would attempt to free her. If it came to it and there was no other choice, they should shoot Hughes.

Howse went back to the crashed car, to find Hughes prevaricating. Now he wanted a police cap, a pair of size-eight shoes and more cigarettes. Howse returned to his gathered colleagues, found someone with the right-sized shoes and returned with them, a cap and cigarettes.

As he approached he talked to Hughes through the front window, trying to distract him from the back of the car, where the two firearms officers were moving forward with their guns.

Howse leant in and dropped the things Hughes had asked for into the car and kept on talking.

‘I told him the waiting car was his for the taking, including me as a hostage — if he would let the woman go. It became obvious from his attitude there was little chance of this happening.

‘If he was going to make a run for it, the hostage was his only chance of escaping. I think she realised this as well and she became hysterical and began pleading with him again.’

Hughes told Howse to back off, but the officer held his ground, determined to stay close enough to react to whatever happened next.

He had made up his mind to tackle Hughes when he left the car, to go for his legs, hoping he would slip on the ice so he could pin him down until help arrived. ‘Behind me I could hear the low throbbing of the getaway car, whose doors lay invitingly open.’

Hughes leaned towards Gill, telling her to get ready to move. But she was now a long way past following his instructions. Her shoulders shook and she wailed her refusal.

Hughes became angry, then incensed. And then he lost control. After a stream of threats directed towards Gill, he did what he had done so many times before in his life of petty crime, violence and broken relationships: he blamed someone else for problems of his own making.

He screamed at Gill, ‘It’s your fault!’

‘Just release her, Billy …’ Howse called out, but Hughes had finally snapped. Shouting ‘Your time is up!’ he swung the axe at Gill. She shrieked, diving forwards towards the car door.

Howse sprang up. Plunging through the rear window, he grappled with the raging Hughes, who struck Gill a glancing blow on the side of her head with the axe. She screamed and shrank further into the corner.

Pottery Cottage contained the bodies of Gill Moran's family - her mother, father, husband and child, all murdered by Billy Hughes

Pottery Cottage contained the bodies of Gill Moran's family - her mother, father, husband and child, all murdered by Billy Hughes

Pottery Cottage contained the bodies of Gill Moran’s family – her mother, father, husband and child, all murdered by Billy Hughes

Hughes brought the axe down again, this time on Howse’s forearm. Fortunately it landed on its flat side.

In the dark of that confined space, Howse struggled to protect Gill with one hand while trying to wrestle the axe from Hughes with the other — when a shot rang out.

One of the firearms officers had made it to the rear passenger window and fired at Hughes. The bullet skimmed off the door and penetrated his scalp, where it remained embedded.

‘Bloody hell,’ Hughes groaned, yet fought on, struggling with Howse for the axe. Gill cowered, screaming, against the door.

The armed officer raced round to the driver’s door and fired again, his shot entering Hughes’s left shoulder blade and travelling up into his chest. But Hughes still wouldn’t go down.

Just in time, the second armed officer arrived at the front of the car, took aim and fired. Inside the vehicle, Howse felt Hughes’s body shudder as he fell backwards, finally losing his grip on the axe in his death throes.

Howse prised himself from the car, his arm numb from the blows of the axe. He saw Gill still cowering in her seat and helped her from the car. ‘Are you all right?’ he asked.

She moved her head slightly, staring straight ahead, before being taken off to hospital.

Some time later, a police superintendent came and sat beside her bed, and Gill listened as he quietly told her everything that had happened back at Pottery Cottage.

A police car outside Pottery Cottage, Eastmoor, Chesterfield, the scene of the horrific crime

A police car outside Pottery Cottage, Eastmoor, Chesterfield, the scene of the horrific crime

A police car outside Pottery Cottage, Eastmoor, Chesterfield, the scene of the horrific crime

When he finished, she said steadily, ‘There’s no one left then?’ He reached for her hand and said in a voice thick with emotion, ‘No, love. No one.’

Shortly after, a police photographer arrived to take pictures of her injuries and found her ‘sedated and almost supernaturally calm; awake but with no emotion whatsoever.’

To friends who visited her, she said: ‘Don’t feel sorry for me, feel sorry for the ones I’ve lost.’ But she revealed her real emotions to feature writer Lynda Lee-Potter, who interviewed her in considerable depth for the Daily Mail.

At their first meeting, Lee-Potter recorded: ‘Gill wept convulsively with her arms tightly wrapped round her body, swaying backwards and forwards.

‘Horror and grief annihilated her.’

Gill Moran managed to rebuild her life, despite all she had endured and the loved ones she had lost. She married Jim Mulqueen and moved to Ireland, where she still lives. She signified to the authors her consent for the re-telling of her story.

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.

DailyMail Online


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