Murder trial jurors pass poignant memorial to nine-year-old girls on site visit
Jurors walked past a poignant memorial as they retraced the last steps of two nine-year-old girls murdered in a woodland den 32 years ago.
Friends Karen Hadaway and Nicola Fellows were allegedly sexually assaulted and strangled by convicted sex attacker Russell Bishop.
The former roofer is on trial for the second time after the Court of Appeal quashed his 1987 acquittal in light of new evidence following advances in DNA techniques.
The forensic evidence centres on a light blue Pinto branded sweatshirt that was allegedly discarded along Bishop’s route home after the killings.
On the third day of the Old Bailey trial, the jury, judge and lawyers decamped to Brighton to see first-hand the site on the South Downs where the killings took place.
They arrived in a coach with a police escort of outriders.
Dog walkers, cyclists, curious residents with mobile phones and even one elderly rambler were ushered away from police cordons for the duration of the two-and-a-half hour visit.
To reach the area where the girls were killed, jurors had to pass a memorial tree.
The hawthorn was decked in fresh pink flowers, beads and crystals and large pink balloons in the shape of 32 that had been placed beside the memorial to mark the anniversary just over a week ago.
Two small teddy bears had been placed side by side next to a plaque dedicated to the young victims.
The memorial serves as a permanent reminder of the lost children who, if they had lived, would now be in their forties.
Jurors walked in sombre silence past a couple glancing up at the colourful tributes glinting in the sun.
They had already been warned they would not stop at the landmark, not out of disrespect, but because it was not relevant to the case.
Jurors had been told to dress for wet weather but were instead greeted with bright autumnal sunshine.
The trial judge Mr Justice Sweeney and lawyers in the case had dispensed with their formal robes and wigs in favour of suits and jackets.
The trial has heard how Nicola and Karen went missing while playing in Wild Park after school on Thursday October 9 1986.
The girls were found dead the next day after a search by police and local volunteers – including Bishop and his dog Misty.
They were discovered huddled together as if asleep in a wooded den in the park near steps known locally as Jacobs Ladder.
Sporting a flat cap instead of a wig, prosecutor Brian Altman QC pointed out the steps as the jury was escorted up to a pavilion in the park.
He said: “This is the pavilion which was here, as you saw, in 1986.
“Behind the pavilion is the grass bank now overgrown and the steep slope bank leading into the woods.
“And it was above this spot that the girls were found dead on Friday October 10 1986 up there in that sort of area.”
Jurors were then taken to see a large bush with red berries on it, the location of one of the last sightings of the girls.
A park keeper at the time told them to be careful and not hurt themselves as they played, jurors have heard.
He also reported seeing Bishop in the vicinity around the same time, the court has previously heard.
Mr Altman highlighted the fish and chip shop across the road, where the girls were later spotted standing with a chip bag.
It was called Seafare in the 1980s but has since been renamed Gulls.
The gathering walked across to a subway under Lewes Road from where Mr Altman pointed out Newick Road, where the girls both lived.
Each location took a matter of minutes to walk to, as officers continued to usher away residents.
The final leg of the visit followed Bishop’s route home on the night of the murders.
Mr Altman stopped outside an old police box – now a car wash with a sign advertising “banging burgers” – and public toilets next door which have been converted into a tyre shop.
Jurors were guided down a footpath between Moulsecoomb library and railway station.
On the way, the jury examined the spot where Bishop said he fell in dog mess as he explained to police why he had washed his clothes.
Finally, Mr Altman showed them an area of rough ground strewn with old bottles and plastic rubbish where Bishop allegedly dumped his sweatshirt.
The secluded patch of brambles and weeds lay between the footpath and the station platform.
On the other side of the path was an electricity sub station.
The court has heard how the clothing – said to be key evidence – was found early on in the search for the girls but left behind.
It was electricity board engineer Robert Gander who realised it might be of interest to police, the court was told.
He handed it in on the afternoon of October 10 1986, the jury heard.
The long-running investigation into the murders by Sussex Police has never been closed, in spite of Bishop’s first acquittal.
The court has heard that three years after he was cleared of the murders, Bishop was convicted of the kidnap, indecent assault and attempted murder of another girl, aged seven.
Bishop, now aged 52, who chose not to attend the visit, has denied two charges of murder.