Man found guilty of murdering two schoolgirls in Sussex – 30 years after being acquitted

Bishop was found guilty after a retrial. Pictures: Sussex Police
Bishop was found guilty after a retrial. Pictures: Sussex Police

Russell Bishop will finally face justice for murdering of two young girls in Brighton more than 30 years ago after being found guilty in a retrial.

The bodies of Nicola Fellows and Karen Hadaway were found in woods near their home on Friday, October 10, 1986.

The murders of Karen Hadaway (left) and Nicola Fellows left a lasting impact on the local community

The murders of Karen Hadaway (left) and Nicola Fellows left a lasting impact on the local community

The killings shook the community but Bishop – a local man who knew the girl’s families – was acquitted after a trial.

But now more than 30 years later Bishop, now aged 52, has been convicted of their murder, police and the Crown Prosecution Service have announced.

The girl’s families said they are ‘united in grief’ as they issued a statement today.

Two young girls go missing in 1986

Bishop, pictured here in 1986, was acquitted in a trial more than 30 years ago but has been found guilty after a retrial

Bishop, pictured here in 1986, was acquitted in a trial more than 30 years ago but has been found guilty after a retrial

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 a 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.

An attack on another girl

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 December 13, 1990 he was convicted of kidnapping, indecent assault and attempted murder and sentenced to a term of life imprisonment.

A change the law – double jeopardy law repealed

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.

Investigation leads to Bishop’s re-arrest over the killings

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 May 10 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.

Bishop stands trial at the Old Bailey

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.

Bishop will be sentenced at the same court on Tuesday, December 11.