Police apologise for failings in investigation into 1986 Babes in the Wood murders of Karen Hadaway and Nicola Fellows

17 April 2024, 14:25 | Updated: 17 April 2024, 14:52

Karen Hadaway and Nicola Fellows
Karen Hadaway and Nicola Fellows. Picture: Alamy

By Kit Heren

Police have said sorry for failings made in their investigation into the 1986 murders of schoolgirls Nicola Fellows and Karen Hadaway.

Listen to this article

Loading audio...

Nicola and Karen, who were both aged, nine, were sexually assaulted and murdered in a Brighton woodland by Russell Bishop.

He was cleared of the "Babes in the Wood" murders in 1987 and was finally convicted in 2018. He was sentenced to 36 years in prison, and died in 2022.

Bishop was acquitted initially because of weaknesses in the case and lies told by his ex-girlfriend, who was later sent to prison for perjury.

In their apology on Wednesday, Sussex Police also said that Nicola's father Barrie should not have been arrested as part of a connected investigation in 2009.

Read more: Babes in the Wood child killer Russell Bishop dies from cancer aged 55

Read more: Woman, 54, charged with murder of baby found in woodland in 1998

Russell Bishop
Russell Bishop. Picture: Alamy

After being acquitted, Bishop kidnapped, molested and throttled a seven-year-old girl on Devil's Dyke in 1990, leaving her for dead.

Nicola and Karen's families worked for more than 30 years to have Bishop brought to justice. A retrial based on new evidence was made possible through reformed double jeopardy laws.

Bishop sought to deflect suspicion on Nicola's father Barrie Fellows during his retrial.

He was also arrested by Sussex Police on suspicion of sharing indecent images in 2009, but the force confirmed on Wednesday that there was no evidence he had done anything wrong.

Barrie Fellows and Sue Eismann, the parents of Nicola Fellows
Barrie Fellows and Sue Eismann, the parents of Nicola Fellows. Picture: Alamy

The officers who arrested him were not aware that the allegations had already been investigated and dismissed in 1988.

The families issued a statement through Sussex Police following the apology to say: "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.

Michelle Hadaway, the mother of Karen Hadaway
Michelle Hadaway, the mother of Karen Hadaway. Picture: Alamy

"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."

They added in a direct address 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.

Russell Bishop
Russell Bishop. Picture: Alamy

"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."