Uncle of Babes in the Wood victims used ‘dark arts’ to get evidence

Conman uncle of Babes in the Wood victims devoted half his life to ensure their killer was put behind bars and used his ‘dark arts’ to get his hands on evidence after police failed to convict murderer

  • Nicola Fellows and Karen Hadaway were both murdered in Brighton in 1986
  • Their families never gave up their fight to put their daughters’ killer behind bars
  • It is also the story of the heroic behind the scenes roles of Nicola’s two uncles 
  • They joined other families to campaign for a change in the double jeopardy law

When two nine-year-old girls were found strangled to death in woodland near their homes in the autumn of 1986, the nation recoiled in horror. 

What sort of monster was capable of this unspeakable act? Incredibly, this question would take 30 years to answer.

Within weeks of the deaths, Russell Bishop, a petty criminal from a nearby estate in Brighton, was charged with what became known as the ‘Babes In The Woods’ murders. 

Two of Nicola’s uncles – Ian, a former police officer, and Nigel, above, a one-time South London conman –who devoted half his lifetime to making sure Bishop remains behind bars for the rest of his life

But following a dramatic trial, he was sensationally found not guilty following a catalogue of errors over the forensic evidence. Only last December was Bishop finally convicted of the murders.

For more than three decades, the families of Nicola Fellows and Karen Hadaway endured the unimaginable agony of not only losing their adored daughters, but of knowing that Bishop was freed to strike again.

And for the Fellows family, who had once been friends with Bishop, there was further anguish when Nicola’s father was himself falsely accused of having played a role in the killings.

The story of how justice was done is a remarkable one. It is the tale of two ordinary families – Barrie and Susan Fellows, and Lee and Michelle Hadaway – who never gave up their fight to put their daughters’ killer behind bars.

But it is also the astonishing story of the heroic role played behind the scenes by two of Nicola’s uncles – Ian, a former police officer, and Nigel, a one-time South London conman –who devoted half his lifetime to making sure Bishop remains behind bars for the rest of his life. 


Ever since their families found themselves living two doors apart on the Moulsecoomb Estate in Brighton, Nicola Fellows and Karen Hadaway were inseparable. On the evening of October 9, 1986, they died together, tragic victims of a paedophile who would lie repeatedly to the police

After extensive interviews with both men, I will reveal how they:

  • Uncovered details of local people with vital testimony who were never called as witnesses in court;
  • Joined other families to campaign successfully for a change in the centuries-old double jeopardy law, in which the same person cannot be tried twice for the same crime;
  • Took their battle all the way to Parliament, engineering an unofficial meeting with the-then Home Secretary and keeping up the pressure when public interest threatened to wane.

Ever since their families found themselves living two doors apart on the Moulsecoomb Estate in Brighton, Nicola Fellows and Karen Hadaway were inseparable.

High-spirited and adventurous, the pair played together after school and took trips to local shops to spend their pocket money.

On the evening of October 9, 1986, they died together, tragic victims of a paedophile who would lie repeatedly to the police. 

Their bodies were found in Brighton’s Wild Park. Both girls had been horrifically sexually assaulted – Nicola before and after her death.

So appalling were the descriptions of their injuries that Nicola’s father Barrie left Lewes Crown Court in tears during the trial. The judge commented: ‘It’s hard to listen to this.’


Russell Bishop, pictured (left) in prison in recent years and (right) after his initial arrest for the 1986 Babes in the Wood murders. Only last December was Bishop finally convicted of the murders

After the not guilty verdicts were delivered, mayhem broke out. Upstairs in the gallery, Nigel and Ian Heffron, Barrie’s half-brothers, sat watching intently. ‘From that moment I knew my life had changed for ever,’ Nigel recalls.

As the trial ended, the two men were ushered into an upstairs room. With anger and adrenaline running high, police were anxious to avoid clashes between the victims’ families and the defendant.

As they waited for the commotion outside to subside, Nigel noticed a trestle table stacked with piles of blue folders marked Sussex Police. 

‘I said to a copper, “Can I read that?”,’ recalls Nigel, a former conman who once referred to himself as a wheeler-dealer like Del Boy. 

When the policeman refused, Nigel tried another tactic: ‘Jokingly, I said, “You wouldn’t miss it if I slipped it into my back pocket.” He said, “Nigel, you will never see that.”

‘That was like a red rag to me. Three weeks earlier we had walked into that court expecting a guilty verdict. From that moment I was determined to get those documents and try to prove the case that we had just seen fail. 

If the police thought they had the right man – and that’s what they said – then why didn’t they get their case right? We had to find out. I couldn’t let it go.’

After the trial, Bishop was celebrated in the neighbourhood. Somehow he was seen as a victim while the real victims faced a vehement backlash.

Days after the verdict, the girls’ mothers went with Nigel to the Crown Prosecution Service’s headquarters in London to get answers about why the case had not resulted in a conviction.

They asked politely at reception to see Sir Allan Green, the-then Director of Public Prosecutions. They were rebuffed but refused to leave until Sir Allan agreed to speak to them. 

Within minutes, the police turned up, telling them to leave or face arrest, and bundled them out of the building.

‘I would have been happy if they had arrested us,’ Nigel says. ‘How would that have looked as a way of treating grieving mothers?’

The family’s problems, however, soon worsened, as rumours and hearsay swirled around the estate. If Bishop wasn’t guilty, who was?

Suspicion quickly fell on Nicola’s father Barrie, who had in the past been convicted of burglary and receiving stolen goods. Graffiti was sprayed on the family’s home.

The girls were found dead in Wild Park in Brighton (pictured in an undated handout photo from Sussex Police). What sort of monster was capable of this unspeakable act? Incredibly, this question would take 30 years to answer

Then, in February 1988, Marion Stevenson, an on-off girlfriend of Bishop, dealt the cruellest blow of all. 

She claimed she had once visited the Fellows’ home and had seen Barrie watching a video of his daughter being sexually abused by the family’s lodger.

The story was, of course, false. It was time to fight back. Nigel admits he had been something of a shady figure in his younger years.

‘I had been a conman, buying stuff and selling it: trainers, TVs, video cameras, anything,’ he says. ‘I was part of the black economy in South London, like Only Fools And Horses, like Del Boy.

‘When the trial went wrong, it allowed me to turn the skills I had learned to our advantage. I was able to con my way into places to try to help my niece.’

At the time of the murders, Nigel’s brother, Ian, worked for Essex Police in child protection. ‘Ian and me went on two different sides of the track,’ Nigel says. 

‘Ian always told me that if I came to Essex and broke the law, he would nick me. And I knew he would.’ 

Together, the brothers set about getting their hands on the police evidence that had intrigued them at the trial. Help was to come from an entirely unexpected quarter.

Ralph Haeems, a celebrated criminal lawyer who defended not only Bishop but the Kray twins and the Scottish serial killer Dennis Nilsen, contacted Nigel after hearing him speak about the case on the radio.

Astonishingly, Haeems invited the brothers to his South London offices and allowed them to view previously unseen evidence. 

‘The first thing we did was get it copied. It took two days. We were just drinking coffee and photocopying,’ Nigel remembers.

Ian is full of admiration for the way his brother got the papers, and said he ‘had a sense’ that Haeems was worried about Bishop. He asked the lawyer why he was helping them. 

This sweatshirt, above, had been key evidence but no witnesses were called who could have identified it as his. By the late 1990s, forensic science, and in particular DNA or genetic fingerprinting, had started to bring astonishing results

Ian says Haeems told him: ‘I believe there has been a travesty of justice. I didn’t like the way Bishop’s brothers celebrated on the steps outside court.’ ‘It had clearly got to him,’ Ian adds.

The brothers [including a third sibling, Kevin, who also played a key role in the campaign] made a crucial discovery. A central plank in the prosecution’s case involved a light blue sweatshirt with the word Pinto printed on it, which had been found near the scene.

Jennie Johnson, Bishop’s then-partner, told police after the killings that the sweatshirt was Bishop’s. But during the trial, she changed her story, claiming she had never seen it before. What’s more, the defence was able to claim that the garment had become too contaminated to be admitted as forensic evidence.

The brothers were astounded to read that no fewer than seven people had made statements about Bishop and the Pinto sweatshirt, including three who identified it as his. Yet none of these people were ever called as witnesses.

‘We challenged the CPS about this,’ Ian says. ‘But they were dead against us. They could have used these statements. The prosecution had put its whole weight behind Jennie Johnson and they had no Plan B when she denied it.’

The families have never received an explanation about why the witnesses were not called. Nigel, meanwhile, called in a favour from another source, his godfather Sir Thomas Holmes Sellors, one of Britain’s most distinguished surgeons. 

Sir Thomas passed on the name of a psychiatrist at London’s Charing Cross Hospital and Nigel sent him a copy of Bishop’s police statements for expert assessment.

The conclusion was shocking. According to Nigel, the psychiatrist’s opinion was that Bishop showed all the signs of being a serial and violent paedophile who would reoffend. 

Tragically, the psychiatrist’s fears were soon realised. In February 1990, Bishop abducted a seven-year-old girl and drove her to a beauty spot, where he sexually assaulted and choked her. Miraculously, she survived.

In December that year, he was convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to a minimum term of 14 years. Now, at least, he was behind bars. But justice for the Babes In The Woods families was yet to be achieved.

By the late 1990s, forensic science, and in particular DNA or genetic fingerprinting, had started to bring astonishing results. Cold cases were now being routinely solved – but only if the culprit had not previously stood trial.

It was for this reason that Ministers became increasingly interested in closing the loophole known as double jeopardy, in which the same person cannot be tried twice for the same crime.

A key moment came when David Blunkett succeeded Jack Straw as Home Secretary in June 2001, bringing with him a tougher agenda. Nigel was determined to see him, and had to use all the wiles of his previous life as a conman to do so.

Michelle Hadaway, the mother of Karen Hadaway, and Sue Eismann, the mother of Nicola Fellows, link arms after paedophile Russell Bishop was convicted of the murder after more than 30 years

‘I had taken a job as a tourist guide at the Houses of Parliament,’ he says. ‘I would show the coach drivers where to park, and then help the tourists. Through all this I became friendly with the police on duty and the security people, who used to let me inside.

‘One day I saw David Blunkett. I went over and introduced myself and he said I should book an appointment because he wanted to talk. I had my foot in the door.’

Blunkett was determined to repeal double jeopardy, but knew he would face an avalanche of criticism from lawyers and civil liberties groups.

What the Fellows family, and others who had suffered in a similar way, could provide was first-hand experiences of miscarriages of justice and the pain it caused.

The brothers did everything they could to gain momentum. Ian went to see the Attorney-General Lord Goldsmith, while Nigel met Baroness Anelay, the Shadow Home Office Minister.

Ian recalls: ‘Lord Goldsmith invited me to make representations for 15 minutes at the Lords. I leaped at the opportunity. We wanted them to make an amendment to a proposed new law on retrials. They agreed and we were amazed.’

The brothers believe the meetings helped secure a crucial change to what new evidence would be allowed. At first, just scientific evidence would be allowed. 

But by the time the Bill came before the Commons, it had changed to the more favourable ‘new and compelling evidence’. Their hard work was paying off. But the clock was ticking – and it was nearing the time Bishop could apply for parole.

An end to double jeopardy was incorporated into the 2003 Criminal Justice Act, which came into force in 2005, to the delight of the Fellows family. 

‘I had always thought it would be impossible,’ Barrie recalls at his Cheshire home. ‘But then I didn’t know about little Nigel and his genius.

‘Nigel had it all in hand. I knew what he was up to, but I didn’t know all the details and I left him to it. They all worked tirelessly for me to put that b****** away.’

In the years after the original trial, the infamous Pinto sweatshirt went for forensic retesting several times in a bid to establish a link with the killings. But despite the huge technological advances, there was no tangible success.

Bishop was now the longest-serving prisoner to remain behind bars for a crime other than murder, the Parole Board having deemed him a continuing danger to the public.

But how much longer could this continue? In October 2014, Conservative Justice Secretary Chris Grayling approved his case for review. 

However, in June 2015, the prosecution finally got a breakthrough. New billion-to-one DNA evidence was found linking Bishop to samples taken from Karen Hadaway’s left arm.

This time, scientists believed it was beyond dispute. In 2016, Ian and other family members had a meeting at the CPS headquarters in London, where they had been so brusquely rejected in 1987.

‘It was tea and biscuits this time,’ Ian recalls. ‘A few years earlier they would have had us arrested. How times change.’

On December 10, 2018, 31 years to the day after the not guilty verdicts were first delivered, Bishop was sentenced at the Old Bailey to life imprisonment. He will be 88 when he is next due for parole.

As the court broke up with tears, handshakes and hugs, Nigel said under his breath: ‘Job done, Nicky. Rest in peace now.’

Ian sums it up: ‘We were never, ever going to let this drop. The only way I would have stopped was if I was carried away in a wooden box. It’s the same for my brothers, even though we are in our 60s now.

‘Nobody could doubt our determination. We would not go away. We would not take no for an answer.’

© Paul Cheston, 2019

The Babes In The Woods Murders by Paul Cheston is published by John Blake on Thursday, priced £8.99.

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