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'We’ll never get over it': Family's shock 40 years after death of Janet Commins

Janet Commins was killed in 1976

The family of a 15-year-old girl who was raped and killed in a brutal attack near her home in Flint in 1976 say they'll "never get over her death."

In their first in depth interview, for S4C’s crime series Y Ditectif, the family of Janet Commins have now spoken out about their shock of learning the true identity of her killer.

Forty years after her death, North Wales Police reopened the case and local man Stephen Hough was found guilty of sexually assaulting and of killing Janet despite an innocent man being convicted of her manslaughter and spending six years in prison.

Janet’s uncle Derek Ierston says it was a weight off his mind after the truth came out. Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

“It was just a tremendous weight off my mind personally to know that the truth was coming out at last. He thought he got away with it.” explains Janet’s uncle Derek Ierston, who lives just three hundred yards from the 1976 crime scene.

Her cousins explain how Stephen Hough hid his crimes and lived amongst them and the community for decades after.

Allison Wood, Hough's cousin, was in the same class as the killer in primary school.

Stephen Hough in school

To find out that it was somebody that I knew and also that Noel Jones played no part in it, someone that you’ve hated for forty years, it was quite a shock really.

To think that I’ve been that close to him in school, on school photographs. I don’t hate anyone but I hate him. To think what he put her through and he’s just shown no remorse, still denied it. I hate him

– Allison Wood, Stephen Hough's cousin

In July 2017 Stephen Hough was sentenced to 12 years for Janet’s manslaughter, rape and sexual assault and was also sentenced a further three years for sexually assaulting another 15-year-old girl in 2016. The family are questioning the sentence.

“I don’t think he should ever ever come out of prison and that would make me feel as if justice has been done because the sentence he’s had is ridiculous” says Allison Wood.

The remarkable case and the evidence from the police files will be featured tonight in an hour long special edition of a new series of Y Ditectif presented by Hinterland actress Mali Harries. The programme examines the DNA evidence which led police to reopen the case.

“We are prepared to use all the latest scientific opportunities to pursue those individuals who do cause harm in our communities and no matter how far in terms of time, we will go back and review and look at what material we have got stored to enable us to detect such horrific crimes,” says Patricia Foley, NWP Scientific support manager.

Senior Investigating Officer Supt Iestyn Davies said he had a public duty and moral obligation to apologise to someone who was innocent. Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

Senior Investigating Officer Supt Iestyn Davies reveals how they investigated Hough’s background.

He was prepared to see an innocent man spend many years in jail while he evaded capture and lived within the community of Flint for many years after the killing. He tricked everyone. But we eventually caught up with him and he’s now in jail for many years to come.

– Senior Investigating Officer Supt Iestyn Davies

He also describes his emotional visit to see Noel Jones following the 2017 court case. Jones, who was convicted in 1976, is now taking his case to the Court of Appeal.

“I felt I had a public duty, a moral obligation to apologise to someone who was innocent. This was a person who’d been wronged, he’d suffered because of that, he was vulnerable. He had a torrid time and anyone who goes through that deserves an apology.”

An IPCC investigation is currently underway into the 1976 police investigation.

But more than 40 years after 15-year-old Janet was raped and killed, the family now say they want to focus on their happy memories of her.

A new series of Y Ditectif starts Tuesday, 9.30pm on S4C, with English subtitles.