Men who testified against Dennis Nilsen praised for bravery

Men who survived serial killer Dennis Nilsen and testified against him are praised for their bravery by BBC viewers as documentary provides a ‘stark reminder’ of institutionalised homophobia

  • Dennis Nilsen murdered 12 boys and men in North London between 1978 to 1983
  • BBC2’s The Nilsen Files, explores whether killer could have been caught sooner
  • Reveals how survivors of serial killer had reported attacks but were ‘brushed off’
  • Family members of survivors claim police felt attacks were simply ‘lovers tiffs’

The men who testified against Dennis Nilsen have been praised for their bravery in the face of ‘institutionalised homophobia which allowed predators to flourish in the UK’. 

The second episode of documentary The Nilsen Files, which aired last night on BBC2, follows those who survived their encounters with the serial killer – who murdered at least 12 boys and men in North London between 1978 to 1983. 

It explored how Scotland Yard shut down any new lines of enquiry in the investigation after charging Nilsen with the murder of just five victims – leaving the identify of eleven other potential victims undiscovered. 

The documentary series found how at least three of Nilsen’s survivors had reported their attacks to police, only to have them ‘brushed off’ as an assumed ‘lovers tiff’. 

Viewers were ‘disgusted’ at attitudes towards the men, who gave evidence ensuring the killer was jailed for murder after his solicitor had argued Nilsen was not of sound mind at the time of the killings. 


Carl David Stottor (left) survived a murder attempt after meeting killer Dennis Nilsen at Camden’s Black Cap pub in 1982. Paul Nobbs (right) met Nilsen in November 1981 and survived his attempts to strangle him 

Scottish barman Douglas Stewart managed to escape a murder attempt by overpowering Nilsen and gave testimony at his trial. He emphatically denied being gay and is pictured with his wife in 1983 

‘Disgusted at the police and society’s attitude to the victims because they were gay. They were someone’s son or brother. We treat animals better than this. Not all victims found. RIP’, wrote one. 

‘The Nilsen Files, once again, provides a stark reminder of the institutionalised homophobia which allowed predators to flourish, in the UK. The Stephen Port murders – much more recently – show that the police still have some way to go, when dealing with crimes against gay men’, said another. 

The Nilsen files is a powerful watch. Lots of those that survived got dismissed because of their sexuality. I remember the ignorance around homosexuality in the 80s’, wrote a third. 

Nilsen was arrested on February 9th, 1983, and upon his capture immediately admitted to officers he had killed 15 or 16 men.

Prolific killer Dennis Nilsen murdered at least 12 boys and men in North London between 1978 to 1983 

In September 1983, five weeks before his trial, Nilsen got a new solicitor who advised him to change his plea to guilty of murder to not guilty by diminished responsibility

Julie, the younger sister of Nilsen survivor Carl David Stottor, who died in 2013, alleged that police disregarded her brother’s reports because of his sexuality

By May 1983, following a three month investigation, five victims of Nilsen had been named – Stephen Sinclair, Kenneth Ockendon, Martyn Duffy, William Sutherland and Malcolm Barlow. 

Despite admitting to killing several more men, the killer was charged with only five counts of murder due to growing pressure from Scotland Yard to close the case for financial reasons.  

Detective sergeant Chris Healey explained: ‘It was quite a large murder investigation and with any investigation money is a big problem, especially in those days. 

‘The plug was pulled at Scotland Yard, they said, “There isn’t enough money now, it doesn’t look like you’re going to find anyone else”.’  

Dennis Nilsen: The Muswell Hill murderer who slaughtered at least 12 men

Dennis Nilsen killed at least 15 men over a period of six years in London in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Most of his victims were homosexual or homeless men who he would pick up in bars across London or on the street.

After inviting them to his home, Nilsen would ply his victims with food and alcohol before killing then. His preferred method was strangulation.

Once dead, he dismembered their bodies by dissecting them in his house. In his first address, Melrose Avenue, he buried their remains in the garden. In Cranley Gardens however he was forced to take other measures.

Once arrested he told police how he boiled the heads of his victims in a large cooking pot to dispose of their brains.

Nilsen (right), with a prison warden at his side, after he was sentenced to a minimum of 25 years imprisonment after being convicted of six murders and two attempted murders at the Old Bailey

He would cut up the rest of their bodies and store them in plastic bin bags at the property. When the stench of their rotting corpses became stronger, he tried to flush their limbs down the toilet and drains.

This caused a large blockage in the pipes. Seemingly oblivious to risk, Nilsen audaciously complained to a waste company about the blockage and asked for it to be resolved because he and other residents were suffering as a result.

When a worker Dyno-Rod arrived at the property in 1983 to unblock them, he discovered what appeared to be flesh and fragments of bone when he opened a drain cover outside the property.

The following day, after inspecting another section of pipe, he and his supervisor discovered what they thought were bones of a human hand.

They alerted police who arrested Nilsen as he returned home from work. While in custody he admitted to killing at least 15 people.

Despite the closure of new investigations, police were close to identifying a victim whose body was found in the flat and who Nilsen had referred to as ‘John the Guardsman’.  

Police found  the body belonged to John Howlett, a 26-year-old from High Wycombe who was murdered at Nilsen’s second address, 23 Cranley Gardens in March 1982 after meeting the killer at a West End pub. 

In September 1983, five weeks before his trial, Nilsen got a new solicitor who advised him to change his plea to guilty of murder to not guilty by diminished responsibility. 

This meant the prosecution needed testimony from men who had survived previous attacks from Nilsen and could confirm his actions were intentional and pre-meditated.  

Julie, the younger sister of Nilsen survivor Carl David Stottor, who died in 2013, alleged that police disregarded her brother’s reports because of his sexuality. 

Carl was just 21 when he met Nilsen at Camden’s Black Cap pub in 1982, agreeing to go back to Nilsen’s flat after the pair chatted over a few drinks. 

He awoke next to Nilsen to find himself being strangled with the zip on the sleeping bag he was in. After a struggle, the serial killer attempted to drown him in a cold bath, but the young man awoke hours later with serious injuries.

He survived only because Nilsen had an apparent change of heart, after seeing a flicker of life still within him, and decided to spare him. Stottor fled the flat and headed to a nearby hospital where he was treated. 

According to his brother Paul, Carl had tried to report the attack but was ‘brushed off’ by police, who thought the pair had nothing more than a ‘lover’s tiff’.

‘I didn’t know what to say, said Carl. ‘It was like, why would they do that when he has a zip mark around his neck? His eyes are all bloodshot?  Because he was gay. He was almost in tears. He said “I’m not lying Paul, I did tell the police.”

Julie added: ‘He reported it, there was nothing written down or anything like that, because nobody took him seriously. He was gay, “Oh it was just a lovers tiff, what you gay people get up to”. 

Steve McCusker, who was a Detective Inspector on the Nilsen case, believes that the police were not homophobic during their investigation, but admitted it may have been difficult for police to establish whether the crimes were ‘a gay thing that went wrong’. 

‘I don’t think there was a homophobic attitude by the police towards people who made complaints’, he said. 

‘You have a way of investigating things. There has to be witnesses, forensic evidence. If you haven’t got it, it’s very hard to deal with it. Investigating the Nilsen case, people had complained to the police saying “Nilsen tried to strangle me”. 

‘The only evidence would have been from the victim himself, there was no other witnesses and it was established as a pick up that went wrong, a gay thing that went wrong. 

‘It’s very difficult to investigate something under those circumstances when you only have one person’s word against it’. 

By the beginning of Nilsen’s trial in October 1983, the prosecution had discovered two other men to testify after surviving Nilsen – Paul Nobbs and Douglas Stewart, who also reported the crime to police, but was allegedly ignored. 

Scottish barman Douglas, who had managed to escape by overpowering Nilsen, emphatically denied being gay. However, according to the documentary, the police believed Nilsen’s story that the pair had a ‘lover’s tiff’. 

First to testify was Douglas, who despite giving a lengthy account of his horrific attack was branded an ‘unreliable witness’ by Nilsen’s defence because he was drunk during the attack and had sold his story to a newspaper.        

Viewers were ‘disgusted’ at attitudes towards the men, who gave evidence ensuring the killer was jailed for murder after his solicitor had argued Nilsen was not of sound mind at the time of the killings

Julie says that Carl, who was just 21 when he testified, was portrayed as: ‘Effeminate, insecure, meek and mild person. I suppose that’s what Dennis Nilsen made him but not beforehand, he was made to feel like he asked for it’.

By testifying Paul, who was 19 and under the legal age of consent for gay men in 1982, was forced to reveal his sexuality, as well as details of the ‘one night stand’ with Nilsen. 

Julie added: ‘How many one night stands has there been in the world? Nobody gets criticised for that, anybody who didn’t conform was not worth it, people were just so judgmental’.  

Despite the defence arguing that Nilsen had not been of sound mind during the attacks, he was found guilty of murder on all six counts and he was jailed for 

To this day, of the 12 victims that the authorities are aware of, eight have been identified. 

The Nilsen Files, BBC2, is available on BBC iPlayer

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