Brighton double murder trial – Jury hears mother describe harrowing search for missing girls

Posted On 30 Oct 2018 at 4:10 pm

The mother of a murdered nine-year-old girl from Brighton gave harrowing evidence through her tears about her desperate search for her missing daughter.

Michelle Johnson, the mother of Karen Hadaway, described how the police told her to leave the search to them.

At the Old Bailey today (Tuesday 30 October) she said: “The police advice was to go indoors. But I was having none of it. I searched all night.”

Brian Altman, prosecuting, said: “Did you get any sleep?”

Mrs Johnson said: “No.”

The man accused of murdering her daughter and her friend Nicola Fellows, both of Newick Road, Moulsecoomb, sat just yards from Mrs Johnson as she gave her testimony.

Russell Bishop, 52, formerly of Stephens Road, Hollingdean, denies murdering the girls. He is on trial at the Central Criminal Court, known as the Old Bailey, in London.

Earlier in the trial the jury was told that the former roofer had already been tried and acquitted of the 1986 murders. But, the prosecution said, new and better DNA evidence would help prove Bishop’s guilt.

Mrs Johnson, who was pregnant when her daughter disappeared in October 1986, said that she had banned Bishop from her home although her mother Maisie had flouted the ban.

Her daughter Karen also liked Bishop and had been out with him and his girlfriend in his car.

He had a young child with his partner Jenny Johnson and lived with her in Hollingdean. But Bishop, who was 20 at the time, was seeing 16-year-old Marion Stevenson, and this had caused some problems in the close-knit Moulsecoomb community where the teenage girl lived.

After the girls had vanished, Bishop asked for an item of Karen’s clothing to give his dog Misty the scent as he joined the search with his friend Dougie Judd.

She let him go to her home and take a white jacket belonging to Karen.

In her desperation, she persuaded Bishop to give her a lift as he went to 49 Acres, off Ditchling Road, to search there.

Murder victims Nicola Fellows and Karen Hadaway

She went home a few times in case the girls had returned – no one had a mobile phone in 1986 – and she told the court: “Karen was afraid of the dark and would never have stayed out so late on her own.”

The next day, Mrs Johnson said, she saw Bishop again in Wild Park when her daughter’s body was found.

In tears, she said: “I was exhausted … I was all upset, confused and did not know where I was. I was just terrified about my little girl. Worried about both them girls.”

Suddenly there were police swarming everywhere and a helicopter above – and Mrs Johnson said: “I saw Russell and I shouted at him … because I wanted to know what was happening.

“He looked at me and put his hand over his face.”

Under cross-examination from Bishop’s barrister Joel Bennathan, Mrs Johnson – formerly Mrs Hadaway – said that Karen used to go to the beach with Bishop and Marion Stevenson.

And she had “never made any complaint” about how they had behaved, Mrs Johnson said.

Asked about discrepancies in her answers in different interviews, including one that took place 31 years ago, she said: “I’m not lying. I just can’t remember. It was back in 1987.”

Russell Bishop

She also spoke about her concerns about Karen playing at the Fellows’ home, three doors away, saying: “I didn’t always like Karen playing at Nicky’s house because Nicky’s dad sometimes had lodgers and callers I didn’t like.”

Mr Bennathan asked her about concerns that she had raised about Nicola’s father Barrie Fellows in a letter that she had written in 1989.

She wrote the letter when Councillor Gordon Wingate came to her home with a friend called Michael Dawes.

At first, Mr Dawes didn’t say who he was. It turned out that he was Bishop’s uncle.

Mrs Johnson wrote: “I’m afraid that Barrie Fellows’ strange and unnatural behaviour since my daughter was murdered has not got any better.”

She said: “He (Mr Fellows) said I was lucky that Karen wasn’t beaten before she died and I thought it was rather strange because we hadn’t been told what had happened to our daughters.”

Mr Bennathan said that Mr Fellows had identified his daughter’s body the day after the two girls were found.

Mrs Johnson added: “Barrie also referred a number of times to Karen being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

“He wasn’t the only one who said it. I think it was just an off-the-cuff comment. He spoke before he had his brain in gear.”

The trial continues.

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