Murdered Eastbourne student Jessie Earl was 'unlawfully killed' rules coroner

Murdered art student from Eastbourne
Jessie Earl was an art student

A coroner has ruled that an art student who disappeared more than 40 years ago was unlawfully killed.

Jessie Earl, 22, was last seen alive at her home in Upperton Gardens in Eastbourne on Thursday 15 May 1980.

Her remains were discovered in undergrowth near Beachy Head in East Sussex in 1989, nine years after she disappeared.

A 1989 inquest into Ms Earl's death recorded an open conclusion, and it was only in 2000 that Sussex Police concluded that Ms Earl was murdered.

The second inquest heard Ms Earl was "probably" tied to a tree and "possibly" sexually assaulted before she was murdered.

No-one has ever been arrested in connection with her death, but Jessie's family lawyers asked for 'murder' to be submitted as the cause of death.

Coroner James Healy-Pratt said he was "satisfied on the evidence that Jessie was murdered, because she was killed unlawfully by a third party perpetrator who intended to kill her".

The inquest heard that two weeks before she disappeared, Ms Earl had told her mother she had met a middle aged man on the Downs. She told her mother something along the lines of "I wish men would be prepared to be just friends," the inquest heard.

Ms Earl's skeleton was found with a bra knotted in a loop, the inquest heard, and forensic pathologist Dr David Rouse thought "both wrists on the individual may have been tied together by this brassiere," the inquest was told.

The knot in the bra could not be loosened with fingers and was likely "tied tightly or subjected to struggling or loaded with weight (e.g. suspension or dragging," the inquest heard.

Coroner James Healy-Pratt ruled that "the only appropriate medical cause of death is 'unascertainable'."

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

Former lead detective for the case, Mark Williams-Thomas said: "We're back here after 42 years, and we've got the result we wanted which is unlawful killing.

"But it shouldn't have taken that long.

"The family have had to sit with this anguish for 42 years, when actually Sussex Police could quite easily brought this back to the court, got a new inquest and the right outcome many years ago.

"All we were looking to do is to get justice for Jessie.

Speaking about whether there is a possibility of finding the person responsible for Jessie's death, he said, "One has to remain optimistic at all times.

"We've brought this case back to the attention of the authorities.

"All we need is for one person to come forward and give us that vital piece of evidence which could lead to the person being caught."

Jo Shiner, Chief Constable of Sussex, said: "I extend my full and sincere apologies to Mr and Mrs Earl for the pain and distress they have endured and, of course, for the loss of their much-loved daughter Jessie."Today’s verdict of unlawful killing formally confirms the police decision in 2000 that Jessie was the victim of homicide. On two occasions, Sussex Police sought to have the original inquest re-opened."I fully accept the historic failures of Sussex Police in this case and acknowledge that the police investigations in 1980 and 1989 were inadequate, with some aspects wholly inadequate.

"More than anything, Jessie’s parents want to know what happened to her. The investigation remains open and I commit to ensuring any new lines of enquiry are effectively investigated."I have offered to meet with Mr and Mrs Earl to extend my apology in person and discuss what further assistance I can provide."