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Carpenter dismembered Highbury mum and left her in the Regent’s Canal, court told

PUBLISHED: 15:22 08 March 2011 | UPDATED: 12:07 09 March 2011

A “DEMONIC” killer with a hatred of women disposed of the dismembered body of a Highbury mother-of-three in the Regent’s Canal, the Old Bailey heard this week.

John Sweeney, 54, allegedly butchered 31-year-old Paula Fields while he was living in Digby Crescent, Finsbury Park, in 2001.

He is also accused of murdering 33-year-old former model Melissa Halstead eleven years earlier in 1990 - but he is only now being brought to justice following a landmark joint Anglo-Dutch investigation authorised by the European Union.

Prosecutor Brian Altman QC described the co-operation as “the first of its kind” as he opened the case to the jury.

Jurors heard how the investigation began with a gruesome discovery by boys out fishing in the Regent’s Canal in Camden Town on February 19, 2001.

Mr Altman said: “In the water not far from the canal side they saw some bags. Curious to see what was within them they pulled one of the bags of the towpath.

“It was a struggle because the bag was full of water. But the zip to this bag was half open and as one of the boys turned the bag over first of all some bricks fell out together with something wrapped in a number of bin liners which proved to be sealed with duct tape.

“To their horror they had discovered just some of the dismembered remains of 31-year-old Paula Fields.”

Sweeney was already on the run from police when he murdered Paul Fields, the court heard.

After trying to kill nurse Delia Balmer at her home in Leighton Grove, Kentish Town, on December 22, 1994, he took an assumed name and travelled to and from Europe.

By the year 2000 he was living in a bedsit in Finsbury Park and had met Paula Fields.

Liverpool-born Miss Fields had come to London with two of her three sons in 1998, staying at the Highbury Hotel in Highbury Grove.

Jurors heard her life went downhill after the boys were taken into care because of her “chaotic lifestyle”. Although she had worked at a launderette she was known to smoke crack cocaine.

In October 2000 she started to speak about a man called Joe from Liverpool who gave her money for cigarettes.

She brought him back to her sister’s flat and he said he was a carpenter by trade.

“This man was clearly John Sweeney”, said Mr Altman.

Sweeney told one neighbour that he had fished the relationship because she had stolen money, condoms, tobacco and mobile phones.

Another neighbour later told police he was woken up in the early hours of December 13 when he heard someone screaming and shouting: “No, no, no.”

Paula was last seen at 9.30am on December 15 when she visited Digby Crescent, the court heard.

Her dismembered body was found in February 2001.

A month later Sweeney was arrested for the attack on Delia Balmer on December 22, 1994. He was convicted of attempted to murder on November 6, 2001, and in March 2002 he was sentenced to life imprisonment.

The murder of Miss Fields was later linked to the case of Miss Halstead, whose dismembered body was found on May 3, 1990, in the Westersingel canal in Rotterdam.

The body was only identified in 2008 following DNA tests in Holland.

Melissa’s head and hands were missing and Paula’s head, hands and feet have also never been recovered.

Both women had been in a relationship with Sweeney at the time they were killed.

He was arrested and charged with the murders of Paula Fields and Melissa Halstead in April last year.

Sweeney, of no fixed address, denies two counts of murder and one count of perverting the course of justice by disposing of the body of Paula Fields.

He cannot be charged with disposing of Melissa’s body because UK law allows this only for counts of murder and manslaughter, the court heard.

The trial continues.


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