'The Babes in The Wood Murder.'
In October 1986, Brighton was shocked by a double murder of two young children, which came to be known as ‘The Babes in The Wood Murder.’
This was the discovery in Wild Park, on the Lewes Road, of the bodies of Karen Hadaway and Nicola Fellows.
It was Friday 10th October 1986 when it was reported that the two young 9 year old children had failed to return home. A massive search was organised and included around 200 police and neighbours. A helicopter was brought in to help search the rambling acres of Wild Park.
The search was successful in finding the girls and at first it was thought that they were alive and huddled together. Subsequently it was found that both had been brutally murdered. Both the girls, school friends lived in Newick Road on the Moulescombe estate, which was a short distance away from the park.
It was right for the police to spare the parents by withholding the worst of the details of their murder. It is suffice to say that Nicola Fellows had been sexually assaulted both before and after her murder, and Karen’s clothing had been disturbed and there were signs that she had also been sexually assaulted. The evidence led to the fact that both young girls had been strangled, their bodies covered in bruises.
The two families were devastated when they were told of the news; they had spent many hours with the search teams in looking for their daughters. Someone else who was also searching for the two children was a man named Russell Bishop. He was a 21 year old, father of two who had actually confirmed to Mrs. Hadaway that her daughter was dead. He later stood in the dock accused of their murder.
About three weeks after the two little girls were found; Bishop was arrested by detectives and taken to John Street Police Station, where he was questioned for a total of 51 hours. He was then released on bail. He quickly went into hiding, while Police guarded his empty flat in Stephens Road, Hollingdean.
On the 3rd December he was charged with the two murders and appeared in Court at Hove on the following day. The Magistrates decided that he should face trial at Lewes Crown Court.
The main reason that Bishop was first suspected was because he claimed to have seen the two bodies during the search of the Wild Park, even explaining how the bodies were lying. The problem being is that he was never near enough to them during the search to have seen anything.
Russell Bishop was remanded to Brixton Prison while he awaited his trial and lived in fear there. He was terrified of the inmates and what they might do to him. His biggest fear was that his food would be laced with some deadly additive, due to the severity of the charges against him. Few criminals have any time for people who murder innocent children. He refused to eat prison food and restricted his diet to biscuits, Kit- Kats and fruit brought in by his family and friends.
He was the youngest of five brothers and had attended Coldean School, where staff realised that he had a problem with learning as well as a behaviour problem. He was found to be slightly educationally subnormal and when he was 14 years old, he was diagnosed a dyslexic. He went to a special Catholic school in Worcester and returned to Sussex where he attended St. Mary’s day and residential school at Horam, near Heathfield. He could not settle there as a boarder and soon took to absconding. He was often found in Brighton, having hitchhiked from the school.
Aged 16 he was tutored by a friend at home.
Lewes Crown Court
In December 1987 he appeared at Lewes Crown Court. The trial lasted four weeks. The jury was made up of eight women and four men. At the end of the trial the jury took just two hours to find Russell Bishop not guilty of the ‘Babes in the Wood’ murder.
Russell Bishop could hardly believe the result, and sat in the dock, his head in his hands, while his family and friends clapped and cheered the result. Meanwhile the families of the murdered girls left the court sobbing and very upset, tears streaming down their faces.
Clearly the Police were disappointed with the verdict. They said that the case had been thoroughly investigated and that they had no plans to reopen the case, unless any fresh evidence came to light.
Nicola and Karen
Five years later Russell Bishop was jailed for life for abducting and assaulting a nine year old girl at the Devil’s Dyke beauty spot on the Downs near Brighton.
By Anna Roberts, Crime reporter