Sussex Police issues apology for historic failings in investigation into murders of schoolgirls

Karen Hadaway and Nicola Fellows, were killed by Russell Bishop as they played near their homes in Moulescoomb. Credit: Family handout

The families of two children murdered in Brighton in the 1980s have received a formal apology from Sussex Police for failings in its earlier investigations into the case.

On 9 October 1986, Karen Hadaway and Nicola Fellows, were killed by Russell Bishop as they played near their homes in Wild Park in Moulescoomb.

A jury found Bishop not guilty following an initial trial in 1987 but changes to double jeopardy laws, and developments in forensic technology, led to a reinvestigation and Bishop was convicted of both murders and sentenced to life imprisonment in 2018. He died in prison in 2022.

Following the case, Karen and Nicola’s family made a number of complaints to Sussex Police. A full review of these was commissioned by Chief Constable Jo Shiner, then Deputy Chief Constable.

The independent review by Surrey Police found that there were failings in the 1986 criminal investigation and that Barrie, Nicola’s father, should not have been arrested as part of a connected investigation in 2009.

There was, and remains, no evidence of any wrongdoing on his part.

Russell Bishop was convicted of both murders and sentenced to life imprisonment in 2018.

The Chief Constable has separately met with both families to formally apologise on behalf of Sussex Police.

She said: “The murders of Karen and Nicola were horrific crimes which rocked the local community, and still resonate today.

“The impact on the community, however, pales into insignificance against the lifelong impact these crimes had on Karen and Nicola’s parents and families.

“Not only did they have to cope with the loss of two children in the worst possible circumstances; following Bishop’s acquittal in 1987, they campaigned tirelessly to ensure that their children received some justice, and Bishop was finally convicted in 2018.

“Throughout the years, the families have continued to engage constructively with Sussex Police and I pay tribute to their strength, their determination and their dignity.

“When I was Deputy Chief Constable I made a commitment to ensure that all their outstanding complaints were answered, and that Sussex Police would take full responsibility for any past mistakes no matter the passage of time.

“It is clear that, despite the successful prosecution in 2018, mistakes were made in those earlier investigations in 1986 and 2009.

“On behalf of Sussex Police, I have met in person with both families to formally and personally apologise for those failings in the initial investigation.

“I have further apologised to Nicola’s father, Barrie Fellows, for his unjustified arrest in 2009 and for the distress and the long-lasting impact this had on him and his family.

“I make it clear now. Barrie should not have been arrested. There was, and remains, no evidence of any wrongdoing on his part.

“It is evident that Nicola and Karen’s families were let down by Sussex Police in the past and it is right that we own and learn from these mistakes.

“My thoughts remain with Karen and Nicola’s parents and families and it is my sincere hope that our apologies today will help them finally have some form of closure.”

  • WATCH: Sussex Police Chief Constable Jo Shiner issues formal apology

The families of Karen Hadaway and Nicola Fellows say they have 'welcomed' the apology from Sussex Police.

In a statement they said: "When our two families jointly raised this complaint with the Chief Constable of Sussex Police in May 2019, it was shortly after we had deliverance of the two guilty verdicts for the terrible murders of Nicola and Karen. At the end of the Old Bailey trial on 10 December 2018, we had felt immense relief that after so much time and wrongdoing, some justice had finally been handed down for both our girls’ murders at the hands of a monster. However, we also felt sad, anger and grief and a vast sense of emptiness. We needed answers; Why had it taken 32 years to get us to this outcome? What went wrong in the 1987 trial against the same monster? 

"In April 2024, we finally had the answers to our questions from Sussex Police's perspective.

"This two-fold apology from Sussex Police is very much welcomed by both our families. It will help with our reconciliation of aspects that we had never fully understood, things that we always suspected but had never been addressed. There are still more answers to be sought in relation to the 1987 failures, but the part that Sussex Police had to play in the initial miscarriages of justice has now been answered and we appreciate the open and authentic way our apologies have been delivered. 

Brighton schoolgirls Karen Hadaway (left) and Nicola Fellows (right) Credit: PA

"We are particularly relieved that Nicola's father, Barrie Fellows, has also been fully vindicated of any wrongdoing. Barrie was made a public scapegoat whilst his life and that of his family, was already in pieces. This apology from Sussex Police for his wrongful arrest will help him to finally move forward with his life. His name has rightfully and properly been cleared. It doesn't reverse all the hardships and terrible pain that he has endured, but it is a step that is absolutely necessary to allow him and his family to heal.

"We thank Sussex Police for seeing this through to a successful conclusion whilst showing integrity, accountability, and responsibility by making these apologies both privately and in this public arena. We know that lessons have been and will continue to be learned. We are immensely proud that Nicola and Karen have left a legacy of such change throughout so many decades.

"We would like to end on a note to the families of other murder victims.

"Please, we implore you, even in your darkest days, never give up. If there is a fight to be had, then fight it. If hurdles are thrown in your way, work out how to overcome them. We were once told that we would never get justice due to double jeopardy laws.

"So, we helped to change those laws and we also fought to change so many other aspects along the way. If we can get justice for the murder of two little girls after such miscarriages were dealt against us and still go on to win the battle after 32 years, then you can do the same. We are proud to have helped lay some of that hard path that you may need to tread. You can do this.

"RIP Nicola and Karen, you will always be with us in our hearts and memories."

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