Russell Bishop on trial again for murder of schoolgirls in 1986

A man has gone on trial for the second time for molesting and strangling two schoolgirls in woods 32 years ago.

Russell Bishop, 52, was cleared of killing nine-year-olds Nicola Fellows and Karen Hadaway following a trial in 1987, the Old Bailey heard.

The girls were found dead in Wild Park, on the South Downs near Brighton, a day after they went missing on October 9 1986.

Within three years of his acquittal, Bishop kidnapped, indecently assaulted and tried to kill a seven-year-old girl in Brighton, jurors were told. He was convicted of the attack in 1990.

Russell Bishop Credit: Sussex Police/PA

Prosecutor Brian Altman QC said Bishop’s earlier acquittal was quashed at the Court of Appeal in light of new evidence following advances in DNA testing.

The girls’ families, including Karen’s mother Michelle Hadaway, sat in court for the start of Bishop’s second trial for the murders.

Opening the case, Mr Altman said: “Thirty-two years ago, almost to the day, on Friday 10 October 1986, two nine-year-old girls, Nicola Fellows and Karen Hadaway, were found dead in the woods at Wild Park in Brighton.

“Both had gone missing the evening before, Thursday 9 October 1986 and, despite searches by police and public, they were not to be found until the following afternoon.

“That grim discovery led to the largest and longest-running police inquiry Sussex Police has ever known.

“The killings were entirely intentional and they were carried out in the woods by a man who sexually assaulted them for his own gratification. That man, say the prosecution, was this defendant, Russell Bishop.”

The funeral cortege carries the coffins of schoolgirls Nicola Fellows and Karen Hadaway. Credit: PA Images

On the day of their disappearance, the girls, who lived in the same street in Moulsecoomb, had gone out to play after school.

Their bodies were found about half a mile away from their homes.

Bishop was arrested in 1986 and even though he was found not guilty at Lewes Crown Court, the case was never closed, the court heard.

Mr Altman said the investigation examined the scientific work “through the lens of modern-day techniques” as DNA profiling was still in its infancy in the 1980s.

He said: “Because of the new evidence, and without it making any judgment about the guilt or otherwise of this defendant, the Court of Appeal has quashed the 1987 acquittals.

“That means that the defendant can be prosecuted again based on the evidence that existed then and the new evidence that is available now.

“Evidence of the re-evaluation of the science available at the time of the original trial and new science, we suggest, proves that Russell Bishop was, to the exclusion of anyone else, responsible for the murders of the two little girls.”

The case against Bishop also rests on his movements, his actions and what he had to say to police, including “significant lies” he told at the time, jurors heard.

Mr Altman told how Bishop, following his murder trial at Lewes, went on to attack a seven-year-old girl on February 4 1990 in the Whitehawk area of Brighton.

He said: “Unlike Nicola and Karen, the victim survived and she was able to identify the defendant as her attacker, which, together with scientific and other compelling evidence, led to his convictions by a jury at Lewes Crown Court on 13 December 1990.”

A policeman stands guard next to a tree surrounded by floral tributes in Wild Park, Brighton, where the bodies of Nicola Fellows, 10, and Karen Hadaway, 9, were found. Credit: Press Association

Mr Altman said similarities between the 1990 attack and the 1986 murders, together with other evidence, lead to the conclusion Bishop was responsible.

He said the evidence against Bishop was “compelling and powerful”.

The jury will visit Wild Park and be shown images of the girls in the secluded “den” in which they were sexually assaulted and killed.

Mr Altman said the “upsetting” pictures showed Bishop knew important details about the scene that “only the killer could have known”.

While some of the witnesses in the case are now dead or too ill to give evidence, their evidence can be read out to jurors.

Bishop, who is originally from Brighton, has denied two charges of murder.