Schoolgirl, 9, 'told mum she wouldn't be long just moments before she vanished' as labourer is accused of murdering her and pal 32 years ago

Russell Bishop, 52, is standing trial again accused of sexually assaulting and strangling nine-year-old best friends Nicola Fellows and Karen Hadaway in Brighton, on 9 October 1986.

Bishop was acquitted of the murders in December 1987 after a trial at Lewes Crown Court.

The Old Bailey today was told that new DNA evidence proves he was the killer – but before the scientific advances were made Bishop had attacked and sexually the seven year old girl.

He was later convicted at Lewes Crown Court of the kidnap, indecent assault and attempted murder of the girl in the Whitehawk area of Brighton on 4 February 1990.

His acquittals were quashed and he is standing trial for the two murders again.

Karen's mother Michelle Johnson listened in court as Prosecutor Brian Altman QC said the victim told her mum she would not be long before she left the house on the night she vanished.

"That was the last time Michelle saw her daughter alive," Mr Altman said.

The girl's mothers started looking for them at around 5.20pm that evening and were told by a neighbour he had seen them in Wild Park 20 minutes earlier.

They had spoken to a park keeper who had warned them not to hurt themselves when they climbed a tree near the main road.

Bishop came and spoke to the park keeper at around the time he was talking to the girls.

He claimed his car had broken down nearby and they chatted about football until he walked off.

The court heard that Wendy Robertson, who lived in Barcombe Road, saw the girls at around 6.15pm as she walked to the fish and chips shop.

By the time she left, around 15 minutes later, they were gone.

Another local resident, Janet Reid, spotted Nicola and Karen on the kerb of Lewes Road at about 6.25pm carrying what looked like small wraps of chips.

Kevin Cahart, who was driving along the same road at around 6.35pm, saw the girls on the central reservation about to cross into Wild Park.

"It was, he remembers, dusk and almost completely dark," said Mr Altman.

A 14-year-old girl, Michelle Tippett, saw the girls, whom she knew, heading in and "told them they should tell their mothers where they were going because they would get worried, but the girls ignored her".

Ms Tippett carried on and did not see them actually go into the park, the court heard.

Jurors heard that Beatrice Cooper, whose home bordered the park, recalled hearing the sound of a child crying as if it had been "severely injured".

But Mr Altman said it "could not realistically" have been either of the victims if the witnesses who saw the girls earlier on were correct in recounting having seen them alive and well at around the same time.

News of their disappearance quickly spread through the Moulsecoomb community.

A search was mobilised, continuing through the night and into the early hours of Friday 10 October.

Shortly after 12.30am, a group of searchers armed with torches found a small fenced off area of land between a footpath and Moulsecoomb Railway Station which the prosecutor said "was an obvious route for the defendant to take from Wild Park" to his home address.

A light-blue crew-necked Pinto sweatshirt was found discarded there and was dry to the touch "in contrast to the wet grass around it", leading those who found it to believe it had not been there long that misty night, the court heard.

Because they were only searching for the missing girls, the jumper did not fit the description of the clothing they were after and so it was left draped over the fence.

Mr Altman, QC, said: "Evidence of the re-evaluation of the science available at the time of the original trial and new science, we suggest, proves that Russell Bishop, was, to the exclusion of anyone else responsible for the murders of the two girls.

"However, the case against him does not only rely on scientific evidence; it relies on it within the context of the story of the case as a whole, including the defendant's movements, his actions and what he had to say to the police, including, as you will see, significant lies he told at the time."

The case was never closed by Sussex Police and DNA testing, which was "in its infancy" in the 1980s, led to a significant breakthrough in the case, the prosecutor claimed.

He told the jury: "We say that the similarities between the events of which he was convicted in 1990 and those in 1986 are such that, together with all the other evidence in the case, they can lead you to the sure conclusion that the defendant was responsible also for the murders of Nicola and Karen but a few years earlier.

"However, let me make this clear: the prosecution does not seek guilty verdicts on the murders of Nicola Fellows and Karen Hadaway by saying that because the defendant was guilty of a very similar attack on another young girl in 1990 he must necessarily be guilty of these murders.

"What we do say is that there is other compelling evidence that this man was the killer of those two little girls and the evidence of his guilt of the other attack and the facts underlying it help identify him as the killer as well as reveal his disposition to behave in a certain way, which is happily both very rare and exceptional."

Nicola and Karen were found dead in the woods at Wild Park in Brighton on October 10, 1986 after going missing the night before.

Both had been strangled and sexually assaulted.

They lived in the same street in Moulsecoomb, Brighton, and had gone out to play after school.

"The killings were entirely intentional and they were carried out in the woods by a man who sexually assaulted them for his own gratification," Mr Altman said.

"That man, say the prosecution, was this defendant, Russell Bishop."

Bespectacled and shaven headed, Bishop wore a grey short sleeved shirt polo shirt, jogging bottoms and trainers in the dock.

Flanked by three security guards, he sat clutching a blue notebook in one hand, with the other clasped against his mouth as the jury of five women and seven men listened to the case opening.

Bishop's trial is estimated to last between six and eight weeks.

He denies two charges of murder. The trial continues.

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