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Strensall (UK), July 25.
(Observer News Service): It should have been a beautiful sunny afternoon in the picturesque village of Strensall, in north Yorkshire.
Instead on Saturday it resembled a ghost town.
The local post office was eerily empty; the common with its rolling fields was deathly silent.
“The school holidays have just started, but people won’t be letting the children out of their sight,” said mother-of-two Sarah Hutchinson. “It just isn’t safe.’
The only people to be seen are lines of grim-faced police officers in white forensic suits conducting fingertip searches of the hedgerows and gardens along the main village road.
They are part of a team of more than 300 officers involved in the hunt to track down Britain’s most wanted man, Mark Hobson.
It was here exactly a week ago that the bodies of James and Joan Britton, a retired British Rail surveyor and his wife, 80 and 82 respectively and in failing health, were found in their pounds sterling 450,000 Strensall home.
Mr Britton had died from a stab wound in his back and sustained other injuries consistent with a severe beating.
The cause of Mrs Britton’s death is yet to be established, but she had also been severely beaten and stabbed in the back. There were no obvious signs of a forced entry at the house; it was confirmed that the door was unlocked when police officers first arrived at the scene
Six hours earlier, the naked bodies of the 27-year-old twin sisters Diane and Claire Sanderson were found in a flat 25 miles away in Camblesforth which Claire, whose partly decomposed body had been wrapped in bin liners, shared with her boyfriend Hobson, now wanted in connection with all four killings.
Diane had been sexually “interfered with” and a hammer recovered from the scene has been taken away for forensic examination.
Claire was last seen during 11 July, and had been dead a number of days when the bodies were discovered in the same room.
North Yorkshire Police believe that Hobson may have killed Claire, then lain in wait for several days for Diane, who went to the flat on Saturday night after receiving a phone call from Hobson.
For those who knew Hobson as a child, few can believe he was at the centre of an international manhunt as well as extensive searches of the Yorkshire dales. It is a remarkable transformation in fortunes for Hobson.
Born in Wakefield on 2 September, 1969 he is remembered as quiet yet popular. Fellow pupils from the Heath View Primary School in Eastmoor can recall little about him other than that he was polite and friendly.
Says another former classmate, who asked not to be named: “He used to look so angelic and now he looks so hard, almost demented.”
There are few clues about just what turned the young Hobson into an adult portrayed as a monster in the media who has now become Britain’s most wanted man.
His childhood appears to have been happy and stable, growing up in a series of houses and flats with his two sisters.
His father, Peter, was a well-respected figure in the local mines, and there are no accounts of him being a violent man. Hobson’s mother, Sandra, found work as a machinist and between the two of them they managed to earn enough to bring up Mark and his sisters.
He spent much of his teenage years hanging around as part of a small gang on the Flaxley Road in Selby, though locals say they were rarely involved in any trouble, and certainly nothing criminal.
At the age of 18 Hobson met a local girl called Kay. They began living together in Selby and quickly had three children, two girls and a boy, the eldest of whom is now 16.
The death of Hobson’s father, from cancer, appears to have been a turning point.
A hard-working, ethical man, Peter Hobson had tried to instill the same values in his son. But after his father’s death, Hobson started drinking heavily.
He was spending every day in the pub, his drinking becoming increasingly worse and he became moody and hot-tempered, according to friends.
After his relationship with Kay started to fall apart, he started drinking even more heavily and left the family home.
The spiral continued.
Because of his drinking, the time he was allowed to spend with his children was cut back. Over time, his access to them was reduced to virtually nothing because his wife feared for their safety.
Hobson is believed to have been working at the Drax power station near Selby, but left there to work at local cardboard factory Rigid Containers, where he met Claire who was a process line worker.
A conviction, two years ago, over an alleged affair with a friend’s girlfriend, revealed a darker side of Hobson, who pulled out a knife and stabbed the friend five times.
Hobson was given two years’ probation and 160 hours’ community service. As soon as details of the attack emerged, Hobson was sacked.
Hobson’s relationship with Claire too was stormy from the beginning. Friends of Claire tried to persuade her to end the relationship, but she refused, claiming she loved him with all her heart.
Hobson appears to have gone downhill then. His heavy drinking and increasing bouts of depression caused by the break-up of his relationship with his wife and the lack of access to his children made it difficult for him to keep the job.
His life began to fall apart.
In April, despite their stormy relationship, Hobson moved in with Claire, much to the horror of her friends and family.
Last month he left his job at Onyx “by mutual agreement’. He was suffering from depression and had taken two weeks’ sick leave.
Hobson was prescribed anti-depressants by his GP in the period just before the murders.
He was last seen at 9.15 am on Sunday, 18 July, near Strensall, close to the Brittons’ home.
And though alleged sightings have been made in every part of Britain, as well as New Zealand, Canada and Dublin, police believe that he remains closer to home.
They recovered his passport and believe he has insufficient funds to get out of the country.
Knowing that Hobson is desperate for money, food and shelter, police are prioritising cases of burglary, shoplifting and theft from washing lines.
They are warning locals to be extremely vigilant and not to approach Hobson under any circumstances.
Says Detective Supt. Javed Ali, who is leading the murder hunt: “We are certain that he is out there and it is only a matter of time before we track him down.”
For the people of Strensall, the nights hold the most fear until the killer is tracked down.
Police continue scouring the dales and the families of the dead battle to come to terms with their loss.
But the talk among drinkers who were willing to venture out last night was still incredulous. In small huddles at the bar, they spoke of death, locked doors and the horror of what happened to the four people who were murdered in their midst.