FOLLOWING randomly splattered blood trails is usually the work of highly trained tracker dogs, but thirty years ago West Mercia Police had an officer who was a dab hand at it.

PC Phil Bates was stationed at Hereford and his skill in being able to trace the route of a line of minute blood droplets earned him two commendations from his chief constable.

The first came in 1978 after PC Bates carefully  followed a blood trail from the scene of a car break-in, across open ground to catch a burglar. But on the second occasion the crime involved a killing.

Along with several others, the officer shouldn’t even have been on duty in the early hours of Sunday, October 11, 1992, but had stayed on to help his colleagues during what was proving to be a particularly troublesome night.

However, all that had gone before was suddenly overtaken by a call to Hereford police central control room at 2.30am by PC Steve Thomas asking for “the duty inspector and the coroner’s officer” at the scene of an incident in Great Western Way.

Shortly before, the control room had been alerted by the city’s ambulance headquarters that a crew was attending a reported stabbing near the Broxash Drive entrance to Great Western Way.

PC Thomas and PC Simon Prater, both of whom were also prolonging their shifts, were despatched to investigate.

It soon transpired the stabbing had been fatal and the dead man was 29-year-old window cleaner Martyn Whillians. He had died where he fell after a knife wound severed the main artery to his lungs.

More officers were immediately sent to the scene and a search for evidence began. Among them was PC Bates who was checking the Broomy Hill bank of the River Wye, about half a mile from the incident, when by the light of his police torch he spotted miniscule traces of fresh blood near steps which led off Great Western Bridge and into Belvedere Lane.

Closer inspection revealed other tiny red dots leading up the lane and into the Broomy Hill area of Hereford. PC Bates, along with dog handler Ian Beddoe and other colleagues, then began the intricate task  of piecing together a haphazard trail by following the hard to see and randomly spaced droplets.

It led them through the grounds of Margaret Allen School to a house in Breinton Road, where, despite the time of day, most of the occupants were still up and were questioned. From there the trail headed into Ryelands Street before petering out.

Unbeknown to officers at the time, the blood belonged to Martyn Whillians’ killer Justin Lord, 20-year-old and unemployed, who lived in Ryelands Street. His subsequent trial at Birmingham Crown Court was told that Lord had badly cut his hand while opening a knife he used in the fight with Mr Whillians.

As Lord fled the scene he first called on friends at the Breinton Road address where they unknowingly allowed him to wash the wound before he carried on home. As the blood trail had ended in Ryelands Street, detectives began knocking on doors in the road and it was still dark when they called at Lord’s bedsit.

The officers spotted a crude bandage on his hand and regarded his explanation for it as unconvincing. Lord was taken to hospital and then straight into custody at Hereford police station. A search of his flat led to a knife being found beneath a settee.

Lord, who refused to answer any questions during police interviews, was charged  with murder, but during the court case fresh light was thrown on events leading up to the death.

Defence counsel Patrick Harrington described Mr Whillians, who lived in the village of Whitestone, near Hereford, as “a man with a grievance against life, out for trouble”.

On the night he died, he had fallen out with his girlfriend and smashed up a car parked outside her address, assuming it belonged to her new boyfriend. It didn’t. It belonged to a neighbour who couldn’t park outside her own home.

A short while later, Mr Whillians and another man “ambushed” a moped ridden by Lord and two other men. They threw stones at it and then pushed the three men off the bike.

Martyn Whillians then “picked a fight” with Justin Lord, which ended badly for him. During the struggle, Lord reached for a seven inch blade survival knife he carried in a pouch around his waist and called ‘Arthur’”.

With ‘Arthur’, Lord stabbed the window cleaner three times in the back and a fatal blow to the chest. He left the scene with Mr Whillians bleeding to death on the ground and later admitted: “I didn’t see why I should stop and help someone who had started a fight with me for no reason.”

Lord was found not guilty of murder but convicted of manslaughter and sent to prison for five years. Despite pressure from Mr Whillians’ family, the Crown Prosecution Service did not appeal the sentence, a spokesman saying  “it was not considered unduly lenient”.