Sussex Police Apologise for Failings in Babes in the Wood Murders Investigation

Sussex Police Apologise for Failings in Babes in the Wood Murders Investigation

Sussex Police Apologise for Failings in Babes in the Wood Murders Investigation

Brighton, EnglandSussex Police have formally apologised for significant shortcomings in their initial investigation into the brutal murders of nine-year-old schoolgirls Nicola Fellows and Karen Hadaway in 1986. The apology extends to the wrongful arrest of Nicola’s father, Barrie Fellows, during a related investigation in 2009.

The young girls were tragically abducted, sexually assaulted, and murdered in a Brighton woodland by a then-20-year-old paedophile named Russell Bishop. The case, dubbed the “Babes in the Wood” murders after a grim fairytale, sent shockwaves through the local community.

Bishop’s initial trial in December 1987 ended in his acquittal due to a weak case presented by the prosecution and police, along with blatant lies from his ex-girlfriend who later faced jail time for perjury. This allowed Bishop to remain free, leading to the horrific 1990 abduction, assault, and attempted murder of another seven-year-old girl at Devil’s Dyke, Sussex.

Following complaints lodged by the families in the wake of Bishop’s eventual conviction in 2018, Chief Constable Jo Shiner of Sussex Police launched an internal review. Upon completion, Ms. Shiner met with both families to offer a sincere apology for the failures in the 1986 investigation and the wrongful arrest of Mr. Fellows.

The details of the review remain confidential at the request of the families.

Nicola and Karen’s families endured a relentless pursuit of justice for over three decades before Bishop was finally brought to account in 2018. His retrial relied on new forensic evidence gathered under reformed double jeopardy laws. Notably, during this second trial, Bishop attempted to deflect blame onto Nicola’s father.

In 2009, Mr. Fellows was arrested by Sussex Police on suspicion of sharing indecent images. However, the force confirmed on Wednesday that this allegation was entirely unfounded, and there was no evidence of any wrongdoing on his part. The arresting officers were unaware that the claims in question had already been investigated and dismissed in 1988.

Police Acknowledge Families’ Strength and Dignity

In a statement released after her apologies to the families, Chief Constable Shiner acknowledged the profound impact of the crimes: “The murders of Karen and Nicola were horrific acts that continue to deeply affect the local community. However, this pales in comparison to the lifelong devastation these crimes inflicted on the families.”

Ms. Shiner continued, commending the families’ unwavering pursuit of justice: “Not only did they face the unimaginable loss of their children, but following Bishop’s acquittal in 1987, they campaigned tirelessly to ensure their daughters wouldn’t be forgotten. Their efforts ultimately led to Bishop’s conviction in 2018. Throughout this ordeal, the families have displayed remarkable strength, determination, and dignity. I commend them for that.”

The Chief Constable formally apologised in person to both families for the initial investigation’s shortcomings. She further emphasized, “I have also personally apologised to Nicola’s father, Barrie Fellows, for the completely unjustified arrest in 2009 and the immense distress it caused him and his family. Let me be clear: Mr. Fellows should never have been arrested. There was, and remains, no evidence to suggest any wrongdoing on his part.”

Public Scapegoating Acknowledged

In a joint statement issued through Sussex Police, the families expressed their appreciation for the apologies: “This two-fold apology from Sussex Police is a welcome step for both our families. It provides some closure on aspects that remained unclear and suspicions we’ve harboured for a long time. While there are still questions regarding the 1987 failures, Sussex Police have acknowledged their role in the initial miscarriage of justice, and we appreciate the openness and sincerity of their apologies.”

The statement continued, highlighting the vindication of Mr. Fellows: “We are particularly relieved that Nicola’s father, Barrie Fellows, has finally been cleared of any wrongdoing. He was unfairly made a public scapegoat at a time when his life, and that of his family, was already shattered. This apology from Sussex Police will hopefully allow him to move forward.”

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