Babes in the Wood killer Russell Bishop’s ex-partner is found GUILTY of perjury after lying under oath over sweatshirt that linked him to the murders leaving him free to strike again
- Russell Bishop murdered Nicola Fellows and Karen Hadaway, both nine, in 1986
- Jennifer Johnson admits she lied under oath at his first murder trial in 1987
- Court heard her testimony left Bishop free to target a seven-year-old in 1990
- Prosecutors had claimed Johnson was ‘part of Team Bishop, not a victim of it’
- She had denied committing perjury and perverting the course of justice
The partner of the Babes in the Wood killer was today been found guilty of lying under oath to derail his first trial – which left him free to kidnap and sexually abuse a seven-year-old schoolgirl years later.
Mother-of-four Jennifer Johnson, 55, had admitted she had not told the truth at Russell Bishop’s first trial in 1987, where he was charged with murdering nine-year-old friends Nicola Fellows and Karen Hadaway in Brighton.
Johnson had stunned police in the dock after suddenly claiming a blue jumper that linked him to the crimescene and killings was not his. She had previously told investigators it had been his garment.
And despite her now admitting she had been lying, she had pleaded not guilty to perjury and perverting the course of justice, on the basis that she was acting under duress.
But the jury at Lewes Crown Court decided she was lying again and had been ‘part of Team Bishop’, desperate to get him cleared of murder.
He was acquitted in 1987 and went on to kidnap, sexually assault and try and kill a girl at Devils Dyke on the South Downs three years later and had been jailed since.
It was only in 2018, after double jeopardy laws were changed, that he was finally brought to justice for sexually assaulting and strangling to death Nicola and Karen.
Jennifer Johnson, Russell Bishop’s girlfriend, pictured leaving Brighton Magistrates Court
Bishop (right) murdered Nicola Fellows and Karen Hadaway, both nine, in Wild Park, Brighton in 1986 but was freed a year later after Johnson (left) lied for him
New DNA techniques linked him to the double murders through a blue sweatshirt.
The top, discarded along Bishop’s route home, contained crucial evidence which linked it to Bishop, the two girls and Johnson.
Johnson’s trial had heard her deny perjury and perverting the course of justice because she was terrified into lying by the killer and his family.
But prosecutor Alison Morgan QC told jurors that Johnson was ‘part of Team Bishop, not a victim of it’, and added: ‘Nobody has a gun to her head.’
Nicola Fellows and her friend Karen Hadaway, both aged nine, were found murdered in Brighton’s Wild Park in 1986
Pictured: A blue Pinto sweatshirt, allegedly worn by Bishop and said to contain vital DNA evidence, which was found beside a path behind Moulsecoomb railway station
The lies and blunders that let killer go free
Bishop’s first trial in 1987 saw a series of blunders which led to his acquittal.
- Bishop’s sweatshirt, which was central to the case, was initially treated as lost property.
- It was put in a brown paper bag as ‘no one thought it was important’ during the search for the girls.
- Forensic science only allowed experts to say the jumper and the girls ‘could’ have been in contact with each other.
- Human hairs and fibres found on Nicola’s body were not tested.
- The ‘Pinto’ jumper was widely available in shops across the country, so may not have been Bishops.
- Bishop’s partner Jennifer Johnson initially identified the jumper as his, but then denied it when she took the witness stand.
The lies meant the families of Nicola and Karen were denied justice for more than 30 years.
Karen’s parents Michelle and Lee Hadaway moved to Surrey and divorced six years later, blaming the tragedy.
Lee moved back in Brighton where he was homeless and addicted to tranquillisers.
He died from a heart attack in 1998 without seeing Bishop convicted of killing his daughter.
Nicola’s dad Barrie Fellows was dogged for years by entirely false claims by Johnson and Bishop implicating him in the murder of his own daughter.
His brother Kevin spent 18 months conducting his own investigation into the blue sweatshirt before he died of cancer without seeing justice for Nicola.
The seven-year-old girl Bishop attacked after he was acquitted was snatched off the street, thrown in a car boot.
Bishop drove her to Devil’s Dyke where he left her for dead.
She was spotted on the roadside, naked, freezing and terrified.
The girl was able to identify Bishop and he was jailed for life.
During the perjury trial Johnson was exposed for making a decision to lie ‘deliberately and prolifically’ to help Bishop.
The prosecutor added: ‘In telling those lies, the prosecution alleges that she intended to pervert the course of justice. She lied because she was seeking to assist and protect her former partner.
Russell Bishop, pictured after his initial arrest for the 1986 Babes in the Wood murders
The girls were found dead in this ‘den’ in undergrowth in Wild Park, Brighton after he struck
The long road to justice
October 10, 1986 – Victims found in woods in Wild Park, Brighton.
December 3, 1986 – Bishop charged with the murders.
December 10, 1987 – After a four week trial, Bishop is acquitted of both murders and released.
February 4, 1990 – Bishop arrested for kidnap, indecent assault and attempted murder of a seven-year-old girl at Devil’s Dyke, East Sussex.
January 19, 1991 – Bishop convicted of kidnap, indecent assault and attempted murder and sentenced to life with a minimum of 14 years.
July 2002 – Babes in the Wood case subject to review and DNA profiling, but was not a success.
April 2005 – Double jeopardy laws – on people being able to be tried twice for same offence twice – are changed.
January 2006 – Forensic tests link Bishop and the Pinto sweatshirt.
Autumn 2006 – Families of both victims informed there was insufficient evidence to proceed with a fresh case against Bishop.
2011-2012 – Cold case review of the murders.
November 3, 2013 – Full reinvestigation of forensics.
May 10, 2016 – Russell Bishop rearrested.
December 2017 – His acquittal was quashed.
December 2018 – He is finally convicted of the murders.
‘By lying in the way that she did she wanted to help Russell Bishop to be acquitted of the offences of murder.’
‘Her evidence attributing the sweatshirt to Bishop fell away. The case against Bishop was significantly undermined as a result.
‘Bishop was acquitted of those offences at the trial which took place between November and December 1987. He was then released from custody and returned to live with the defendant and their children.’
Miss Morgan said: ‘Three years later in 1990, at a time when he was still living with the defendant, Russell Bishop kidnapped, sexually assaulted and tried to kill another young girl.
‘He left that girl in woodland, believing her to be dead. Miraculously, the girl survived.
‘There was another trial.
‘The defendant continued to maintain her support for Russell Bishop.
‘This time, however, Russell Bishop was convicted of the offences of attempted murder and sexual assault and he was sentenced to a life sentence.’
She said it was clear Johnson, who then worked as a cleaner at the American Express offices in Brighton, was in a ‘violent, volatile and coercive’ relationship with Bishop.
But she added: ‘It will be suggested on behalf of the defendant that she was forced to give false evidence by Russell Bishop and his family.
‘She will say that she had ‘no choice’.
‘She will say that she was young and the victim of domestic abuse and coercive control. She will say that at the time when she told the lies she did, she was acting under duress.’
But Miss Morgan said Johnson, who was pregnant at the time and also had a young son with Bishop, also showed signs of being an independent and assertive woman herself.
During the murder investigation, she told police she had a normal relationship with Russell and been ‘happy’ until he started a relationship with 16-year-old Marion Stevenson.
Miss Morgan said a person is only entitled to claim that they are acting under duress if there is no reasonable evasive action that they could have taken.
She told the jury the defence of duress was only applicable if the defendant felt seriously threatened.
Miss Morgan said: ‘For someone to be acting under duress they must reasonably believe that if they do not do something, serious violence will be used against them, or someone close to them, immediately or almost immediately.’
Miss Morgan said Johnson had ample opportunities to tell the truth about the ownership of the sweatshirt.
She said: ‘Was she someone who was so terrified of Russell Bishop and his family that she simply had no choice but to lie on oath?
‘Was there anything stopping her from telling the judge or the police officers or anyone else present in the courtroom that she was under that type of threat.’
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