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Russell Bishop sentenced to life imprisonment for the 1986 Wild Park murders

News   •   Dec 10, 2018 15:25 GMT

Victims Karen Hadaway and Nicola Fellows

The most high profile and long running complex cold case murder in the history of Sussex Police has finally been solved after Russell Bishop was found guilty of killing two young girls Karen Hadaway and Nicola Fellows in Wild Park Moulsecoomb, Brighton – 32 years ago.

Bishop, 52, was convicted of their murders on Monday 10 December following a nine-week trial at the Central Criminal Court in London and sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum term of 36 years.

The judge, Mr Justice Nigel Sweeney, commended Detective Superintendent Jeff Riley, the senior investigating officer and his investigation term for all their hard work in bringing Bishop to justice.

This case still impacts on the community of Brighton, as well as, most importantly the families of the two girls, to this day.

Sussex Police have never forgotten or given up on the case, which over the years has been the subject of continual reviews and forensic developments. 

You can now read the story of how the force’s current investigation team worked tirelessly to build a case against Bishop and how he was finally brought to justice.

On the evening of Thursday 9 October 1986, nine-year-old friends Karen and Nicola were reported missing from their homes in Newick Road, Moulsecoomb. 

Following the above 999 call, made by Karen's mum Michelle, an intensive search started led by police and supported by local volunteers.

Tragically their bodies were found in undergrowth on a steep embankment in nearby Wild Park just after 4pm the following day. Both girls had been sexually assaulted and strangled.

Russell Bishop, then aged 20, who lived locally and knew the girls’ families, was arrested on suspicion of their murders on 31 October and charged on 3 December 1986. 

A year later however he was acquitted of both murders after a jury found him not guilty. 

Bishop was later arrested in February 1990 after a seven-year-old girl was abducted from near her home, sexually assaulted, strangled and left for dead at Devil’s Dyke on the South Downs. On 13 December 1990 he was convicted of kidnapping, indecent assault and attempted murder and sentenced to a term of life imprisonment.

In April 2005 the double jeopardy provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 took effect, which made it possible to prosecute a previously acquitted person for a second time in cases where new evidence had since been obtained. No second prosecution could ever be commenced without express authority from the Court of Appeal.

Also during the course of 2005 and 2006 a case review made some headway when DNA profiling techniques were employed, albeit with limited success. At that point in time it was however recognised that there was insufficient new evidence to satisfy the tests of the new double jeopardy legislation. Of critical importance was the fact that the legislation only allows for one application to be made to the Court of Appeal and if it were to fail the evidential test, no future application could ever be made. In spite of the setback, the force had not given up the case.

In 2012 another internal police review was carried out and by the summer officers met with forensic providers LGC Forensics, now known as Eurofins, who have a team of experts specialising in the forensic development of ‘cold cases’. In May 2013 senior forensic advisor Roy Green reported finding DNA potentially linking Russell Bishop to a blue ‘Pinto’ sweatshirt which had been found discarded some distance from Wild Park. This sweatshirt had previously been linked to the murders through fibre transfer examinations conducted by forensic scientists in 1986.

By November of that year, the case had been officially re-opened and a dedicated team of detectives and staff had been formed to reinvestigate. Over the course of the next three years the investigation focused on developing a strong scientific case which demanded an enormous amount of painstaking analytical and scientific work.

The efforts of the investigation were rewarded in 2016 when the Director of Public Prosecutions, satisfied with the extent and reliability of the new evidence gave authority to re-interview Russell Bishop under the terms of the 2003 legislation.

On 10 May that year Russell Bishop was brought from Her Majesty’s Prison to Durham City police station where he was arrested and interviewed by officers from Sussex Police.

Detective Superintendent Jeff Riley who led the re-investigation said: “As a category A prisoner Bishop would not have been told about where he was going. It was only when he arrived at the back of the police station and then was met by my officers that the realisation started to dawn on him that this had not gone away. He clearly wanted to go back to prison and did not want to be there.”

Watch the moment when a shocked Bishop realises he is being arrested for the murders of Karen and Nicola:

When interviewed Bishop denied touching the girls, but later admitted in court that he did in fact touch them to check for a pulse. 

Detectives continued to build the case against Bishop and during December 2017 the Court of Appeal made an order quashing the 1987 acquittals and directing that Russell Bishop should be tried before a jury trial for a second time. During the early part of this year the date of 15 October 2018 was set for commencement of the re-trial of Bishop at the Central Criminal Court (the Old Bailey).

At the trial, the Prosecutor Brian Altman QC, said that there was a wealth of evidence to show that Russell Bishop, to the exclusion of anyone else in the world, was guilty of the murders of the little girls - 32 years ago.

There was evidence of a physical connection between him and the girls linked by the Pinto sweatshirt he had worn, the transfer of fibres, paint comparisons and the compelling one-in-a-billion DNA match to Bishop. See a forensic taping below.

Also the similarities between the murders and the crime of attempted murder of a seven-year-old that Bishop had been convicted of three years later.

Bishop was seen in the area local to Wild Park on the evening of the killings and later described details about the murder scene, which the killer could only have known. See the key locations here:

Bishop denied the murders claiming that police had bullied him into making a false account at the time. His defence team also cast suspicion on Barrie Fellows, the father of Nicola, falsely claiming that he had watched his daughter being filmed in a pornographic video giving rise to a motive for killing the girls.

However the jury after two hours and 45 minutes of deliberation found Bishop guilty of both murders.

Lorna Heffron, the families’ spokeswoman, said: “Nicola and Karen. Our beautiful girls. We will never forget their smiles that would light up a room. Their laughter. Their cheekiness.

“During the past eight weeks, we have endured re-living the horrific details of their murders and we have learned an awful lot about the true meaning of heartbreak all over again.

“We stand here as two families united in our grief. United in our fight for justice. And now united in our elation at today’s guilty verdict. We are extremely relieved and grateful that our 32 years hard fought battle has been a success, finally getting the rightful long-awaited justice for both of our girls.

“We want to thank our police teams and counsel, who have been fantastic during the past couple of decades. If it wasn’t for their efforts and dedication working with us, we wouldn’t be stood here today. Together we have changed history with this ‘double jeopardy’ ruling and we finally have the correct outcome – Russell Bishop remains behind bars where he belongs.

“The guilty verdict doesn’t bring Nicola and Karen back, but we know that other children are now safe from the hands of Russell Bishop. He is a monster. A predatory paedophile. Russell Bishop truly is evil personified.”

Karen’s mother Michelle said: “After 32 years of fighting, we finally have justice for Karen and Nicola. Time stood still for us in 1986. To us them beautiful girls will always be nine-year-olds. They will never grow up. We’ve been deprived of a happy life to watch them grow into adults. What people like Bishop inflict on the families of their victims is a living death. They take the lives of children but they also take the lives of the families left behind.

Kas and Nicky, as they were affectionately known, friends playing out together only to have their lives wiped out by a sexual deviant, a monster.

“What’s been hard, horrendous and heart breaking is to hear that they were murdered by a disgusting paedophile, who we actually knew and the two girls liked and trusted. He abused that trust (heart-wrenching).

“Bishop doesn’t deserve to breathe the same clean air as we do. After all, he decided that day to strangle the life out of our two angels, leaving them no air to breathe. What makes a man want to squeeze the life out of two innocent children with his bare hands? Unbelievable when he had a child himself and another on the way.

“He’s a coward, without a conscience. I don’t believe you can rehabilitate evil. I think Bishop was just born that way. People talk to me of forgiveness but I can never forgive or forget what the evil monster did to my beautiful Kaz and Nicky.

“I’m trying so hard to get my head around this but I will cos I’m a fighter and I’ll never stop being strong for my family.”

Detective Superintendent Jeff Riley said: “Russell Bishop is a truly wicked man and the life sentence with a minimum term of 36 years reflects the true magnitude of the terrible crimes against these two young girls.

“Bishop will hopefully spend the remainder of his life behind bars where he truly belongs and never darken the streets of Brighton again.

“This significant term of imprisonment will of course never make up for the loss of Karen and Nicola but I hope their families will take some comfort from it.

“This has been one of the most high-profile and complex murder investigations in the history of Sussex Police.

“This case still impacts on the community of Brighton and, of course, has forever altered the lives of the families of the two girls, and in particular, their parents, Michelle, Susan and Barrie.

“Sadly Karen’s father, Lee, passed away in 1998 and never saw justice for his daughter. This has been delivered today.

“We had never forgotten or given up on the case, which over the years has been the subject of continual review and forensic developments. The change in the law in 2005 and the recent significant forensic breakthroughs, combined with the strength of the previous investigative work, has now all come together to finally achieved justice for the families of Karen and Nicola.

“This is the moment to remember the two murdered girls. They died at the hands of a predatory and vicious killer, who has refused for 32 years to face up to what he did - and still does.

“We should also acknowledge the courage, persistence and dignity of Karen and Nicola’s families. Throughout the years they too have never given up, always seeking justice.

“I pay tribute to my own Sussex Police investigation team, whose detailed and tireless work has helped to bring justice for Karen and Nicola. This work was built upon the strong foundations provided by the original investigation team in 1986.

“In addition, our Crown Prosecution Service colleagues, who were engaged at the very start of this enquiry, have provided critical support and guidance throughout.

“Also key to this outcome were independent forensic experts, Roy Green, Louissa Marsh and Ros Hammond from Eurofins, whose meticulous work proved that the original forensic evidence remained valid after 32 years and in addition provided new and compelling evidence. 

"But today is about the families. In addition to the distress they have suffered since 1986, during this trial they have had to listen to a defence argument seeking to paint the father of one of the victims, as the murderer.

“Anyone who witnessed the anguish and pain shown by Barrie Fellows when he gave evidence cannot fail to have been moved by it.

“The jury clearly saw through this cynical and heartless attempt by Bishop to cause yet further distress and to divert blame away from himself. It is a tribute to the families' resilience that they reacted with calm, dignified resolve.

"Finally it has been a privilege for me to lead this investigation and I sincerely hope that the families can now find some peace, and move forward to the next chapter of their lives.”

Sussex Assistant Chief Constable Nick May said: “We are pleased to have achieved justice for the families of Karen and Nicola and we should remember those two nine-year-old girls today. I would like to thank the ex-officers and staff who have assisted the current investigation. I must finally thank the current investigation team, led by Detective Superintendent Jeff Riley, which has worked quietly and professionally with Crown Prosecution Service and forensic colleagues for the last five years to put this case together with an absolute determination to get to the truth."

Disclaimer: This is a story of how detectives investigated the crime. It is not intended as a court report and the material has been released with the support of Karen and Nicola's families.