Sussex Police apologises over failures in investigating schoolgirl murders

Sussex Police apologises over failures in investigating schoolgirl murders

Nicola Fellows and Karen Hadaway were sexually assaulted and strangled in woodland in Brighton

A police force has apologised for failings in its initial investigations into the 1986 Babes in the Wood murders of two nine-year-old girls and the wrongful arrest of one of their fathers.

Nicola Fellows and Karen Hadaway were sexually assaulted and strangled in woodland in Brighton, East Sussex, by paedophile Russell Bishop.

On Wednesday, Chief Constable of Sussex Police Jo Shiner said there were failings in the original investigation into their deaths in 1986, and that Nicola’s father Barrie should not have been arrested as part of a connected investigation in 2009.

Bishop was acquitted at the end of his first trial in December 1987 due to weaknesses in the case presented by police and prosecutors, and lies told by his ex-girlfriend, who was later jailed for perjury.

After his acquittal he was left free to kidnap, molest and throttle a seven-year-old girl, leaving her for dead at Devil’s Dyke in February 1990.

Nicola and Karen’s families battled for more than 30 years to finally see Bishop jailed in 2018 after a retrial based on fresh forensic evidence as part of a prosecution made possible under reformed double jeopardy laws.

During his second trial, Bishop tried to cast suspicion on Nicola’s devastated father Barrie.

Mr Fellows was also arrested by Sussex Police on suspicion of sharing indecent images in 2009, but the force confirmed on Wednesday that there was no evidence he had done anything wrong.

The officers who arrested him were not aware that the allegations had already been investigated and dismissed in 1988.

The families issued a statement through Sussex Police following the apology to say: “This two-fold apology from Sussex Police is very much welcomed by both our families. It will help with our reconciliation of aspects that we had never fully understood, things that we always suspected but had never been addressed.

“There are still more answers to be sought in relation to the 1987 failures, but the part that Sussex Police had to play in the initial miscarriages of justice has now been answered and we appreciate the open and authentic way our apologies have been delivered.

“We are particularly relieved that Nicola’s father, Barrie Fellows, has also been fully vindicated of any wrongdoing. Barrie was made a public scapegoat whilst his life and that of his family, was already in pieces.

“This apology from Sussex Police for his wrongful arrest will help him to finally move forward with his life. His name has rightfully and properly been cleared. It doesn’t reverse all the hardships and terrible pain that he has endured, but it is a step that is absolutely necessary to allow him and his family to heal.”

Ms Shiner, who led an internal review following complaints made by the families in the wake of Bishop’s 2018 conviction, has met with them to apologise.

Details of the review have not been released at their request, according to Sussex Police.

The force said that it had apologised for failings in the 1987 prosecution in terms of the preparedness of the case, and its over-reliance on some witnesses, as well as wrongly arresting Mr Fellows.

She said: “The murders of Karen and Nicola were horrific crimes which rocked the local community, and still resonate today.

“The impact on the community, however, pales into insignificance against the lifelong impact these crimes had on Karen and Nicola’s parents and families.

“Not only did they have to cope with the loss of two children in the worst possible circumstances; following Bishop’s acquittal in 1987, they campaigned tirelessly to ensure that their children received some justice, and Bishop was finally convicted in 2018.

“Throughout the years, the families have continued to engage constructively with Sussex Police and I pay tribute to their strength, their determination and their dignity.

“When I was Deputy Chief Constable I made a commitment to ensure that all their outstanding complaints were answered, and that Sussex Police would take full responsibility for any past mistakes no matter the passage of time.

“It is clear that, despite the successful prosecution in 2018, mistakes were made in those earlier investigations in 1986 and 2009.

“On behalf of Sussex Police, I have met in person with both families to formally and personally apologise for those failings in the initial investigation.

“I have further apologised to Nicola’s father, Barrie Fellows, for his unjustified arrest in 2009 and for the distress and the long-lasting impact this had on him and his family.

“I make it clear now. Barrie should not have been arrested. There was, and remains, no evidence of any wrongdoing on his part.

“It is evident that Nicola and Karen’s families were let down by Sussex Police in the past and it is right that we own and learn from these mistakes.

“My thoughts remain with Karen and Nicola’s parents and families and it is my sincere hope that our apologies today will help them finally have some form of closure.”

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