The subject of a recent TV drama, the White House Farm murders bring back some very personal memories for Peter Gruner
05 March, 2020 — By Peter Gruner
NEARLY 35 years have slipped by since, as a young reporter, I stood nervously outside sculptor Colin Caffell’s home near Kilburn station.
At the time Colin was traumatised with grief after the murder of his six-year-old twin sons, Daniel and Nicholas, ex-wife Sheila, and her parents Nevill and June Bamber. They were all shot dead at White House Farm, the Bambers’ quiet country home in Essex.
Today, reading the new updated edition of Colin’s book, In Search Of The Rainbow’s End, (originally published in 1994), the story of the murder and its aftermath, I can only look back at that time outside his home with some guilt.
For in August 1985, as an Evening Standard reporter, I was one of a posse of Fleet Street hacks “door-stepping” Colin in an effort to obtain an interview, and managing to add yet more misery to a man who had lost his beloved family.
His book is an extraordinary read. Not only does it deal with events surrounding the murder, but it also delves into efforts by Colin to cope with terrible grief and try and rebuild his life. Now he is a well-known artist and grief counsellor who has travelled the world giving talks.
I’m glad to say Colin did eventually talk to me, all those years ago, about plans to celebrate the short life of his sons – buried in Highgate cemetery with their mother Sheila – in a lovingly created bronze sculpture, the first he made.
Colin’s ex-wife Sheila and twins Daniel and Nicholas
Colin’s book inspired the making of the highly praised serial about the murder White House Farm, recently shown on ITV. He was played by actor Mark Stanley.
He writes vividly in the book about his time in the US, after the court case, where he worked with the late-great Swiss American psychiatrist and trauma specialist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross.
For those who don’t know the story, blame for the White House Farm killings was originally attributed to Sheila, who had suffered mental health issues. But ultimately the evidence pointed to her brother Jeremy Bamber, then 24 – both he and Shelia were adopted – who was sentenced to life for the murders, although he still maintains his innocence.
Colin, incidentally, is convinced of Bamber’s guilt.
In the book Colin describes how, in a distraught state, he seeks solace in the paranormal, taking advice from the late entertainer Michael Bentine whose son Stuart died in a plane crash aged 21 in 1971.
In the book The Door Marked Summer, Bentine describes how Stuart appeared to him in the family’s garden. Bentine recommends Colin visit celebrated medium Betty Shine, but tells him not to expect miracles.
Despite his early scepticism, Colin finds her medium sessions interesting, comforting and on occasion “authentic” and describes Shine as a “remarkable lady.” She died in 2002.
One of the first strategies Colin found to reduce his anxiety was writing. “Writing everything down, I no longer needed sleeping pills my doctor had prescribed,” he says. “It seemed that the activity of putting my thoughts on paper effectively let them out of my system. It was the same when I made the sculptures.”
Colin went to Virginia in America and trained with Kubler-Ross as a facilitator on her “Life, Death and Transition,” workshops.
The sculpture Colin created in memory of his family
He was encouraged to “listen with his heart rather than ears” and to make a mental note about what triggers feelings. He meets a Vietnam army veteran who blames himself for not being at a siege where many of his buddies died. “His story touched me deeply. The soldier screamed out, ‘I should have been there, I could have saved them!’”
Colin writes: “These were also my words.”
He describes Kubler–Ross as like meeting an old friend or kindred spirit, although many were in awe of her.
“She happily sat and talked about the pain in her own life –the ‘wind-storms’ – as a way of illustrating what she had to teach.”
He discovered that “when people are not allowed to grieve, for example, to cry and talk about what happened, we end up with a reservoir of repressed tears and self-pity; feeling as if we are a victim and blaming everyone else for our hurts.”
Kubler-Ross spoke about the “inner Hitler” that we have inside that “screams with rage” compared with our compassionate inner “Mother Teresa” voice capable of unconditional love.
“What most impressed me,” Colin writes, “was that she and her staff spoke a lot of psychological truths, but in a language that even a child could understand.”
Today Colin is married again and has a 20-year-old daughter. He lives in Cornwall where he continues to make sculptures.
Talking to the Review about the TV series, he said he thought it was “well done,” albeit, being a drama, inevitably over-simplified. “I quite like actor Mark Stanley’s version of me but of course it’s nothing like me.”
As for the future, he said: “I’ve got plans for a small self-help book for people who are traumatised or bereaved. I’d like to include all the strategies and wisdom I’ve learned over the years. What do you look for when you are searching for a grief counsellor or therapist, for example? People don’t always know.”
• In Search of the Rainbow’s End: Inside the White House Farm Murders. By Colin Caffell, Hodder & Stoughton, £9.99