AS driving snow raged across the moor, Gill Moran looked forward to getting home to the cosy cottage she shared with her parents, husband and 10-year-old daughter.
But inside its walls lurked an evil far more dangerous than the worsening blizzard – escaped prisoner Billy Hughes.
Over three terrifying days in 1977, the violent criminal held the five occupants of Pottery Cottage in Alfreton, Derbyshire, hostage while police combed the area looking for him.
In scenes straight out of a horror movie, Hughes, who had slashed two prison officers’ throats to escape, sexually assaulted Gill and murdered all four members of her family, one by one, including adopted daughter Sarah.
Efforts to track him down were hampered by road blockages, caused by the worst blizzards for 15 years, and terrified Gill was forced to lie to colleagues and friends who called the house to ask after the family.
Forty years on Gill has given permission for the full, horrifying story to be told for the first time by Peter Howse, the chief inspector who saved her life.
Nightmares and mental scars
Co-written with Carol Ann Lee – author of the White House Farm Murders, which inspired the recent ITV drama – The Pottery Cottage Murders is released this week.
Peter tells The Sun Online that, as well as devastating the life of young mum Gill, the horrific events of January 1977 left mental scars on all those involved.
“It affected a lot of people,” he says. “The scene of crime officer, who took photographs of the house and attended the post mortem, has terrible nightmares about it.
“It also hurt the family of Billy Hughes, who were innocent in all of this. His wife Jean killed herself as a result."
Rapist on the run
When Gill Moran’s 68-year-old mother, Amy Minton, heard the handle turn on the back door, on January 12, 1977, she was expecting to see her daughter returning from work.
Instead she was faced with the terrifying sight of escaped prisoner Hughes, dripping wet from the snowstorm outside and carrying two axes he’d stolen from the yard.
Hughes, who was charged with stabbing a man in the face and raping his girlfriend at knifepoint, was being escorted from Leicester Prison to Chesterfield Magistrates Court when he stabbed two prison officers, leaving them with life-threatening neck wounds, before hijacking the cab.
After crashing the car, he trekked three miles across Beeley Moor, in the freezing blizzard, before spotting the inviting glow of the cottage and stepping inside the warm kitchen.
Locking the door behind him he told Amy he was on the run from the police and that he wouldn’t hurt anyone as long as she did as he said.
But seconds later, when Amy’s 72-year-old husband Arthur entered the kitchen, he was savagely struck with Hughes and knocked to the floor, dazed.
Again, Hughes told them everything would be alright if they just hid him until dark, before asking who lived in the house and calmly taking a 5 inch boning knife from the door.
Terrified wife held at knifepoint
When 38-year-old Gill arrived, minutes later, her trembling mother told her what has happened and, chillingly, Billy boasted, “I have stabbed two prison officers. I didn't kill them but I do know how to kill.”
Terrified, Gill tried to stay calm as only child Sarah – adopted after years of heartbreaking attempts to have children naturally – arrived home from school.
She concocted a story about Hughes’s car breaking down and having to wait for the tow truck.
Sarah chatted amiably to the stranger before her grandad took the little girl through to the annexe he shared with Amy.
I have stabbed two prison officers. I didn't kill them but I do know how to kill
"I would never hurt her," Hughes assured Gill, explaining he had a daughter of his own, Nichola, then four, who was at home with his wife Jean in Blackpool.
When husband Richard, 36, arrived home he found his wife with a knife at her throat.
“Don’t come near me or I’ll kill her,” growled Hughes.
While Richard pleaded with him to take the car keys and leave, Hughes cut flex from lamps which he used to tie all the hostages up before gagging them and carrying each one to separate bedrooms in the large house.
Before being tied up sobbing Sarah begged: "Don’t you hurt my mummy and daddy! Don’t you dare!"
Stripped, sexually assaulted and savagely bitten
As night fell, Gill prayed he would leave as promised, but this was just the start of the ordeal.
That night she heard a cry, and then a moan, and knew she was hearing her father being savagely beaten in the lounge below, being forced to listen until cries became fainter and the house fell silent.
Later that night Hughes came into the bedroom, untied Gill, forced her to strip and perform sex acts on him as he bit her savagely on the shoulder.
She was saved from rape only because she was on her period.
Richard, bound and gagged in the room next door, could only listen as she was abused.
"[Afterwards Hughes] put me into bed and covered me up with the blankets," Gill recalls in the book. "He seemed concerned as to whether the bonds were too tight."
Over the next three days, he kept the family captive, refusing to let Gill see her daughter or father and issuing constant threats, all while wielding the boning knife or axe.
Gill and Richard were made to lie to family, friends and work colleagues on the phone, telling them they had flu, and even when workmen came to the door, to empty the septic tank, Gill was too terrified to raise the alarm.
Throughout Gill's ordeal she was kept from her daughter and father, who were tied up in the Minton's annexe.
Despite repeated assurances from Hughes that Sarah was fine, she had no idea whether they were dead or alive.
Blizzard scuppers search
As Hughes’s terrifying hold increased, Gill even went out shopping for him, buying supplies, beer and cigarettes, as well as the papers, which were dominated by the police search for the dangerous criminal.
But the door to door searches, hampered by the continuing snowstorms, never reached Pottery Cottage.
“Most of the roads were closed off,” says Peter Howse, who was leading the search for the missing man.
“We searched from the scene of the crashed car, which was about three to four miles away, but there was no indication in which direction he'd gone.
“Police dogs were used at the car to try and get a lead on him, but because there so much blood in the car from the two prison officers who'd been stabbed in the neck, the dogs would have picked up the scent of the prison officers rather than Hughes.”
Gill was leaving the house and people had spoken to them on the phone, no one thought anything was wrong
School closures and absences at work, caused by the storm, added to the problem.
“I gave an interview on Radio Sheffield to warn people about the escape and ask them to check their neighbours and report any concerns,” adds Peter.
“But because Gill was leaving the house and people had spoken to them on the phone, no one thought anything was wrong.”
Blood in the snow
After three days of hell, Hughes sent Richard and Gill to the local town to buy camping equipment and food, callously instructing them to buy a book for Sarah.
Gill carefully chose a book she knew the 10-year-old would love.
As they shopped Richard told his wife he was going to the police but Gill, fearful of what the crazed Hughes would do to her family, insisted: “I will never forgive you if you do.”
Driving back to the cottage, Gill thought her ordeal could be drawing to a close and Hughes would soon be on his way.
But, even as she packed up the supplies and handed over all the cash the couple could muster, Hughes made it clear he was taking Gill along as a hostage.
When the family car refused to start, Hughes told her to knock on a neighbour’s door for help and, for the first time, she risked telling someone what was going on, asking them to alert the police.
After seeing her mother stagger from the house into the snow, blood pouring from a deep wound in her neck, Gill then turned and ran – only to bump into Hughes coming the other way.
He dragged her to the road and made her crawl along a ditch, out of the sight of cars, until she reached another neighbour, a mechanic, who helped them get the car on the road.
Massacre on the moors
When the police arrived at the scene, a few minutes later they found congealed blood staining the carpet up the stairs and across the landing, where they found Richard.
He was face down, with his arms tied behind his back and ankles tied with flex, with blood from a fatal wound on his neck soaking his smart blue shirt and two knives resting beside him.
In the annexe, Arthur lay on his back, under a pile of coats with a huge teddy bear thrown onto his face. He had also been stabbed to death.
Outside, following a trail of blood in the snow, officers discovered the body of Amy Minton, with her throat cut.
Finally came the most horrifying discovery of all, in the Mintons's bedroom.
Sarah lay in the foetal position on the carpet, wrists and ankles tied tightly and a gag secured under her blonde ponytail.
The 10-year-old had been stabbed several times in the chest and throat and died beside her favourite doll, who she had tucked up in a pillowcase for a bed.
She had been killed on the first night.
Beside the bed were plates of untouched food that Hughes has been taking through the annexe to convince Gill her daughter was still alive.
Police chase ends in 80mph crash
While officers dealt with the horror at the crime scene, their colleagues from the Derbyshire police were chasing the family Chrysler, with a wild, reckless Hughes wielding an axe at the wheel and Gill, trembling with fear, in the passenger seat.
Travelling at over 80mph on the icy roads, the car was overtaken by a cop car and four officers jumped out to stop it – only to scatter as Hughes ploughed on.
Another police car, blocking the narrow road, sent the Chrysler careering into a dry stone wall, but Hughes quickly yanked Gill’s head back, holding a knife to her throat, yelling “get back or I’ll kill her.”
He demanded a car and, worried for Gill’s safety, the officer in charge handed over the police vehicle and the fugitive and hostage once more sped off into the night.
With more police cars following and Cheshire police preparing to stop him up ahead, Hughes was about to come to the end of the road.
But even when forced to crash into a wall, by a bus parked across a narrow stretch as a roadblock, he wasn’t ready to give up.
As police surrounded the car, he jumped on Gill, holding her tightly across the throat and held an axe above her head, threatening to kill her.
Gill was still holding onto the belief that her daughter might still be alive
For the next 50 minutes Howse tried to talk the crazed axeman down.
“Gill was there with an axe above her head and Hughes also had a knife,” he tells the Sun Online.
“I knew that he had killed four people, including the 10-year-old girl, and he was raging that he would kill her unless I got him another car and let him go.
“He was ferocious the whole time, still wanting to kill.
“The rear car window behind Gill was broken and I was negotiating through that so all I could see was the back of Gill's head
"She was obviously greatly distressed, she was shaking and crying all the time.
"I spent nearly an hour trying quiet him down and persuade him to give himself up. In the end, it didn't work.”
Tragically Gill tried to help Howse calm Billy by mentioning his own daughter adding: “He loves her, he’d never harm her. He’s been so good to Sarah, my daughter.”
“Gill was still holding onto the belief that her daughter might still be alive,” says Howse.
"Hughes was still promising her that she was safe, but Sarah had been killed on the first night.”
Peter kept silent about the horrors at the house and hatched a plan, agreeing to Hughes’s demands with the idea of tackling him as he moved to the getaway car.
Cornered killer attacks Gill with axe
Incredibly, despite the chase and the discovery of the murders, there were initially no armed police on the scene.
Peter continued to negotiate, as two officers armed with Smith & Wesson .38-calibre revolvers, each loaded with five bullets, quietly joined their colleagues at the scene.
As they approached the car Peter distracted Hughes by dropping items he had demanded – cigarettes, shoes and a police cap – on the back seat, all the time explaining the car was waiting and offering himself as an alternative hostage.
Suddenly, the mood changed. Hughes said something to Gill, and she shook her head, refusing to do as he asked.
The killer flipped, screaming abuse at Gill before screaming “It’s all your fault!” and swinging the axe at her head.
Peter Howse sprang up, throwing himself through the window and grabbing Hughes, who struck Gill a glancing blow on the side of her head with the axe before bringing it down on the CI’s forearm, luckily landing on the flat side.
Then a shot rang out. Hughes took a bullet to the head but carried on grappling with Peter. A second bullet to the shoulder still didn’t bring him down but after the third, fired from the front of the car, Hughes slumped forward, dead.
“I helped Gill from the car and another driver brought his car alongside,” recalls Peter.
“She was taken straight to the hospital where she received medication and sedation and, the next day, the news was broken to her about the deaths.”
'If he was alive he'd haunt me forever'
Bravely, Gill was then able to tell the story in her own words, to Chief Inspector Thompson, in a statement.
“All this was corroborated by the forensic evidence gathered at the scene and there's no doubt as to what had happened because Gill had survived,” he says.
“If Gill Moran had been killed, then it would have been a very different situation.”
As Hughes had been shot, Howse was kept off the investigation until the inquest, which ruled the shooting was justifiable homicide.
Three months later Gill asked to see Peter once again and, while they didn’t speak about that day, she told him she was receiving counselling and taking small steps to move on with her life.
“I felt humbled by the experience. She had endured the most terrible losses and yet she was slowly but surely trying to put the pieces of her life together.”
I know Mum, Dad, Richard and Sarah are watching me, willing me somehow to go on
In 1998, Hughes’s widow Jean, tormented by what he had done, took her own life. The couple’s daughter, Nichola, also attempted suicide but, after being saved, she moved away from her home town of Blackpool, so she was no longer known as “mad Billy Hughes’ daughter.”
Eventually Gill got married again, to Jim Mulqueen, the son of Richard’s foster sister Margaret, and the couple had a daughter, who they named Jayne Sarah, in memory of the half-sister she would never know.
Gill tried to take strength from the love that had existed in the family home, before the horrors of January 1977.
“Some days I get up with so much anger in me,” she told the Daily Mail.
“I have so much hate in my heart for Hughes."
“But I think, ‘I won’t be beaten’. I know Mum, Dad, Richard and Sarah are watching me, willing me somehow to go on.”
The Pottery Cottage Murders by Carol Ann Lee and Peter Howse is published by Robinson Books on March 6.
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