Police reopen cold case of five-stone man "left to die" in a Harrogate hostel cellar

Robert Pride-McLeod
Robert Pride-McLeod

It was the mystery that shocked the tranquil town of Harrogate a decade ago and left police desperately searching for answers.

Now, 10 years to the fateful day that he checked himself into a homeless hostel on Robert Street, police have reopened the investigation into the death of Robert Pride-McLeod.

DI Mark Pearson

DI Mark Pearson

The tragic tale of Mr Pride-McLeod’s made national news when his body was discovered in a damp cellar in Harrogate on January 21, 2007.

Police still believe that the 49-year-old was assaulted prior to his death after a post mortem examination revealed that he had previously sustained a head injury.

However, despite making arrests, opening the case again in 2015 and a £5,000 reward for information issued by Crimestoppers, police have failed to find whoever was responsible for his death.

But today, ten years to the day after Mr Pride-McLeod checked himself into his hostel on Robert Street, police are examining the case once again.

Robert Street in Harrogate

Robert Street in Harrogate

Arrival in Harrogate.

A frail Mr Pride-McLeod stood at 5ft 2in and weighed just five stone when he arrived in Harrogate on January 12.

An inquest into his death, held in 2008, heard that he suffered with medical conditions including heart trouble, psychiatric problems – forcing him to walk with a wheeled frame.

His sister, Christine, also revealed that he had changed his name around five years prior to his arrival in Harrogate and knows him by his previous name Timothy.

Robert Street in Harrogate

Robert Street in Harrogate

After living with a friend in Birstwith for several years, Mr Pride-McLeod was immediately admitted to hospital on the day he arrived in Harrogate.

During treatment at Harrogate Hospital he declared himself homeless and later that day was given a first-floor room at the Robert Street hostel and was checked in at 11.45pm.

Robert Street Hostel

However, during a check over Mr Pride-McLeod’s room the following the following Monday, staff were shocked to discover that he wasn’t there.

Robert Street in Harrogate

Robert Street in Harrogate

Sadly, nine days after checking into the homeless hostel, police discovered his body in the cellar.

An inquest recorded an open verdict into his death but suspicions were sparked when post-mortem tests found that he had suffered a head injury.

Police launched a murder inquiry into his death before a man, a woman and a 17-year-old were arrested on suspicion of murder of murder and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

After being released on bail, police then arrested three youths the following month in Harrogate over Mr Pride-McLeod’s death.

“Left to die”

Det Sgt Matt Walker told the inquest that, despite the arrests, nobody had been charged with murder but explained that suspects and other witnesses had lied to detective.

On the night that Mr Pride-McLeod went missing, Det Sgt Walker told the inquest that a male resident had been celebrating his 17th birthday party in the hostel and that youths had been drunk and taking cannabis.

Mr Pride-McLeod was then thought to have been enticed into the cellar with police satisfied he was then assaulted and left.

Det Sgt Walker said: “A female witness heard him being bounced off the walls and doors and saw him laid in a pool of his own blood but she was frightened and had locked herself in her room.

“Those who knew he was down there made no attempt to save him or alert anyone that he was down there.

“He was left to die in a cold, damp, dark environment in the middle of winter.”

Police reopen probe

Despite Coroner Geoff Fell expressing his “disgust at the actions of those responsible”, he was forced to record an open verdict and police were unable to crack the case.

In 2015, police reopened the case and made a fresh appeal for information with officers from North Yorkshire Police’s Major Crime Unit reviewing the case.

Appealing for people with new information to come forward, Detective Inspector Mark Pearson made an emotional plea to finally get answers for Mr Pride-McLeod’s family.

“Robert died alone in a cold cellar. Nobody’s life should end in this manner and I want to find out what happened to him.” Det Insp Pearson said.

“At the time of the initial enquiry people may have been reluctant, for whatever reason, to come forward. It is now eight years on and people’s lives will have moved on considerably, and loyalties and perspectives change over time.

“Despite the investigation there are still a number of unanswered questions. Who assaulted Robert? How did he come to be in the cellar? Did someone put him there?

“Somebody knows what happened to Robert and I am appealing to them to talk to us so that we can get some answers for Robert’s family.”

Although the hostel where Mr Pride-McLeod died was no longer there, Det Insp Pearson revealed that seven rooms and a flat were occupied during his stay.

But, despite appealing to any former residents or visitors there that weekend that may have seen him, the reopened investigation did not yield any further arrests

10 year anniversary

It’s now ten years since the 49-year-old checked himself into the homeless hostel on Robert Street but the true circumstances surrounding his death remain a mystery.

Now, the Advertiser can exclusively reveal that North Yorkshire Police are once again on the hunt for answers; launching a fresh investigation into his death.

The force said that they still believe there are people in the Harrogate community that have still not shared vital information about what happened to Mr Pride-McLeod.

Police will use scientific advances to gain more information about the case, including conducting a forensic review and tests not available during the original investigation.

They will also conduct a systematic review of all material recovered from the scene but police are still eager for more witnesses to come forward.

“Determined as ever”

A cold case team from North Yorkshire and Cleveland Police’s joint Major Investigation Team is also supporting the investigation into Mr Pride-McLeod’s death.

The Major Investigation team tackles North Yorkshire’s most serious crimes, including murder, rape and manhunts whilst specialising in cold cases and complicated investigations.

Det Insp Pearson, of the Cleveland and North Yorkshire Major Investigation Team, has worked on Mr Pride-McLeod’s case since his death a decade ago.

Ten years on and Det Insp Pearson retains a crucial role in the cold case review and remains as determined as ever to finally solve the mystery.

He said: “Ten years have passed since we had to break the devastating news to Mr Pride-McLeod’s family that he had been found dead and alone in a cellar.

“I’m convinced that there are still people out there who hold the key to a number of unanswered questions.

“At the time of the initial enquiry people may have been reluctant, for whatever reason, to come forward.

“But people’s lives change considerably in the course of a decade and they may now realise that sharing information about Mr Pride-McLeod’s death is the right thing to do.

“We’re as determined as we were ten years ago to get answers. Someone will know what happened in the final moments of Mr Pride-McLeod’s life and I’d urge them to get in touch.”

Major Investigations Team

The Major Investigations Team was launched in November 2016 in collaboration with Cleveland Police, bringing together some of the most experienced detectives in both forces.

The 74-strong team has bases in both Harrogate and Middlesbrough and primarily work on offences that occur within their patch.

However, they also have the flexibility to pull in specialist personnel from the wider team when necessary.

With major investigations, including Mr Pride-McLeod’s case, demanding a lot of resources, police explained that this setup helps the team to deal with peaks in demand.

When it launched, Chief Constable of North Yorkshire Police Dave Jones said the Major Investigation Team ensured the organisation could “get on with the job of bringing criminals to justice as quickly as possible”.

Police appeal

Were you a resident at the Robert Street hostel in Harrogate when Mr Pride-McLeod arrived? Were you visiting someone at the hostel that weekend?

Did you see what happened to Mr Pride-McLeod or have you heard anything about what happened to him?

If you have any information, no matter how insignificant it may seem, please contact North Yorkshire’s Major Investigation Team on 01609 643 147. If you prefer not to give your name, Crimestoppers can be contacted anonymously on 0800 555 111.

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