Inquest hears murdered Eastbourne student Jessie Earl was 'possibly tied to a tree and assaulted'

A fresh inquest has begun into the death of art student Jessie Earl, who vanished more than 40 years ago. Credit: Family handout

An art student who disappeared more than 40 years ago was "probably" tied to a tree and "possibly" sexually assaulted before she was murdered, an inquest has heard.

Jessie Earl's remains were discovered in undergrowth near Beachy Head in East Sussex in 1989, nine years after she disappeared from her nearby bedsit.

A second inquest into her death is expected to conclude on Wednesday, May 11. A coroner is set to decide whether the student, 22, from Eastbourne was unlawfully killed.

A 1989 inquest into Ms Earl's death recorded an open verdict, and it was only in 2000 that Sussex Police concluded that Ms Earl was murdered. No-one has been arrested.

The second inquest, which had been ordered by the High Court in December, opened on Tuesday, May 10 at Eastbourne Town Hall.

It was ordered after a campaign by Jessie's parents.

John and Val, parents of murdered student Jessie Earl Credit: ITV News Meridian

When Ms Earl's body was discovered, the only item of clothing found with her bones was her bra.

The inquest heard it was tied in a knot and could have been used as a "restraint, gag, weapon or ligature".

Retired Sussex Police detective sergeant Anne Capon told the inquest: "We had a view that she had been restrained in some way by her bra, and because it was found near a tree we believed she could have been tied to a tree."

Ms Capon told the coroner she believed Ms Earl had "probably" been tied to a tree, perhaps using her bra, and said there was "possibly" a sexual element involved.

However, she said it is impossible to be certain of the alleged sexual assault due to the length of time that had elapsed before she was found.

She said Ms Earl's bones were "scattered" but a "number of bones were closer to the tree" and the bra, the only item of clothing recovered, was "found very close to the base of the tree".

Jessie Earl pictured with her father John at their home in South East London. Credit: Family handout

Ms Capon, who has been involved with the case in its various stages over the decades, worked on a 2000 investigation, Operation Silk, that ultimately concluded Ms Earl had been murdered.

She told the fresh inquest that she still believed what she had told the first 1989 inquest: "My opinion was she has been murdered."

She said this was due to the "circumstances", such as "the way the bra was tied" and "the fact that she was in such dense undergrowth".

Ms Capon said she "just couldn't see how Jessie could have got into dense bushes like that, and there were various other things that made me think she had been murdered", such as the fact it was "off her normal walking route".

In January 2022, Kent Police said: "At this stage there is no evidence to connect Fuller to any other murder victims, but the investigation remains ongoing."

Sussex Police said: "No further lines of enquiry have been identified and there are no other developments. 

"We have no evidence implicating any named individual in the murder of Jessie Earl."