The village railway station at Cromford in Derbyshire is cute but stained by an ugly murder. Cab driver Stuart Ludlam was called there to collect a fare but was lured into a trap set by a gun fanatic who wanted to carry out an execution. Stuart was shot in the head and died instantly. He was a popular, reliable, jovial 43-year-old man and in September 2009 he was expecting to return home to his wife and three children. Sadly he never made it as Colin Cheetham – a weirdo with an unhealthy interest in guns - had planned to murder a random stranger.
It was all over in minutes. Stuart drove up the hill to the station to collect a customer. At some point a gun was pulled on him. He was forced to walk to the back of his car, open the back door, get in and kneel there. He was shot in the head twice. Nobody witnessed it and no cameras recorded it. Later holiday-makers walking down the hill were horrified to see an arm hanging out of the car and the car engine still running.
Twenty-seven stone Colin Cheetham had spent months plotting an unsolvable execution. He’d compiled four scrapbooks showing potential murder sites and scoped them out. All were isolated railway stations and their associated timetables had allowed him to select a time when a railway station would probably be deserted. He made a careless mistake. Though he called the cab office using an unregistered mobile phone he'd topped it up using his credit card. This led police straight to his cluttered home (which contained many bottles of his own urine) and a man obsessed with guns. In court Cheetham said he’d gone to the railway station because an acquaintance wanted a gun "to teach a drug dealer a lesson" - and that acquaintance had shot Stuart. The jury weren't fooled, found him guilty and beckoned the judge’s 30-year jail sentence.
Why did Cheetham chose to murder an innocent person? His past didn't contain a single criminal convictions and had been a technical director at a dye firm. His motive was probably a mix of misplaced superiority, boredom and evil. We’ll never know the reason he died aged 71 in Wakefield prison from multiple organ failure (he had diabetes, arthritis and high blood pressure.) In a way he'd got away with murder as he spent scant time in prison.
I spent about fifteen minutes at the railway station. I had a stroll along the platforms and didn’t see a soul. It was muted and deserted; the only living mobile things I saw were birds. I went to look at the memorial dedicated to Stuart which sits on the station approach (a few feet from the spot where he died.) Oddly a taxi drove up the hill and slowed down as it passed me. There was only the driver inside. He turned the car around and descended the hill, again slowing down to watch me (didn't pick anyone up.) He stopped the car at the foot of the hill and continued to watch me over his shoulder. Thankfully I took refuge in a phone call and the cab drove away.
Cromford’s a small place and the murder sent shockwaves through the community. A two-minute silence was held for Stuart in Matlock just over a week after his murder. This silence was broken only by the passionate sounding of taxi horns by the hundreds of drivers who attended. I did a salute at the plaque and left.