The lies told by a Brighton woman, who is on trial for perjury, helped leave a murderer free to attack again, a jury was told at Lewes Crown Court this afternoon (Friday 16 April).
Jennifer Nancy Johnson, also known as Jennifer Robinson, 55, of Saunders Park View, Brighton, lied on behalf of her ex-boyfriend Russell Bishop.
Bishop was cleared of murdering two nine-year-olds, Nicola Fellows and Karen Hadaway, in Wild Park, Brighton, in October 1986 at a trial at Lewes in 1987.
This afternoon, Alison Morgan, prosecuting, told Jennie Johnson’s trial what happened next. She said …
The acquittals of Russell Bishop in 1987 caused devastation for the families of the girls, but there was another terrible consequence.
In February 1990, at a time when he was still living with the defendant, Russell Bishop went on to attack another girl. She was seven years old and abducted from the street.
Bishop drove her to a remote area, stripped her, sexually assaulted her and strangling her – in the way that he had done with Nicola and Karen.
He dragged her naked body into woodland and left her, believing her to be dead. Miraculously, she survived.
A further police investigation was launched to identify her attacker. And as a result of her description of the car driven by the attacker, Russell Bishop was very quickly identified as a potential suspect.
On Sunday 4 February 1990, police officers attended the home address of Russell Bishop and the defendant.
The defendant was outside at the time with Bishop and their two children. The officers introduced themselves and asked to come inside to speak to Bishop.
Once inside, the officers explained that there had been an incident earlier that day involving a red car.
They asked Russell Bishop what his movements had been that day. The officers indicated that there had been an assault of a girl in the Whitehawk area.
At that point, the defendant shouted: “Not again. Fuck off. We’re not having this.”
And the defendant carried on shouting at the officers: “We’ve had this all before. Fuck off.”
Russell Bishop then intervened to tell the defendant to “shut up”.
But the defendant continued: “Why Russell? Why him? It’s always him you fucking pick on.”
Now you will want to consider those comments.
The officers carried on trying to explain why they were there and the defendant continued: “Why him? Why don’t you go and see Barry Fellows? He’s the bloke you want to talk to.”
You will recall Russell Bishop’s false defence at his first trial was that this was a reference to … Barry Fellows, the father of Nicola Fellows.
As I mentioned, Bishop had sought to implicate Barry Fellows in the course of the murder trial.
So here, presented with information about a different attack on a different girl, the defendant suggested entirely falsely that the police should speak to Barry Fellows about the attack.
She continued to shout her support for Bishop, stating: “He was found innocent. All the time you come to him.”
She then instructed Russell Bishop: “Don’t say fuck all.”
And Russell Bishop told her to shut up again. And then she then demanded to know how the police knew that Russell Bishop had a red car and said “he’s never been pulled” – that is to say, never arrested or stopped – in that car.
The officers continued to question Bishop about his movements earlier that day.
On one occasion, when Bishop was struggling to describe the location of his brother’s address, where he suggested he had been that day, the defendant chipped in: “Up the big hill.”
The defendant said to another officer: “You don’t give a fuck you lot. You did fuck all when a firebomb almost killed my kids.”
The officers explained the work that had been done to investigate that, which was a separate matter, but the defendant shouted: “You don’t give a fuck.”
Russell Bishop was asked to provide a statement in relation to his movements and the defendant shouted: “Don’t sign anything.”
She continued in this way and towards the end of the exchange the defendant shouted at the officers: “Get out of here. You won’t fucking come back here.”
So this was behaviour that happened three or four years after the allegations in this case.
You will want to look at it and consider what it tells you about the defendant and her relationship with Russell Bishop.
She now maintains that she was the victim of coercive control, dominated by Bishop. Is that behaviour what you see in this incident? Or was she was assertive, even aggressive, towards the police officers?
She continued to maintain that Russell Bishop was innocent, seeking to implicate Barry Fellows again. She even issued instructions to Bishop about not saying anything and not signing any kind of statement.
The investigation into the attack on the seven-year-old girl moved quickly.
In the early hours of the next day 5 February 1990, police officers attended the address again, this time to arrest Russell Bishop.
Both Russell Bishop and the defendant shouted and swore at the police officers.
And after Bishop was arrested for sexually assaulting the child, the defendant continued shouting and screaming at the police officers.
And indeed she started hitting one of the police officers about the head with her fists and had to be restrained.
Russell Bishop was taken away and remained in custody and he was then charged with attempted murder and indecent assault.
During the course of that year (1990), Russell Bishop remained in prison awaiting his trial and the defendant wrote to him on a number of occasions.
(Johnson told Bishop how much she loved him and wanted to marry him – and said: “Me and your family will prove your innocence.”)
Another trial that followed in 1990 we do not have the transcripts for. The defendant provided an alibi statement in support of Russell Bishop, in other words suggesting that he was with her at the time that the girl had been attacked.
It was another false statement.
It is not clear from the records that we have whether she went into a courtroom or not and whether she gave that evidence at the trial.
She does not face any charges in relation to the statement in that trial.
But you may want to consider what her continued support for him, even at a time when he appeared to have committed further offences of a similar type … what that reveals about her attitude towards Bishop.
Bishop was convicted of kidnap, attempted murder and indecent assault on 13 December 1990. He was then sentenced to life imprisonment.
The defendant continued to contact him, continued to write to him and continued to visit him. She continued to express her love for him.
In the background of the criminal case was a civil action that Russell Bishop brought against the Chief Constable of Sussex Police for what he claimed was his wrongful arrest for the murders of Karen and Nicola.
Even after his conviction for the offences of kidnap, attempted murder and indecent assault, Bishop continued to pursue this action. As part of that claim, the defendant provided another statement in support of Bishop. The statement is in your “jury bundle”. It is signed and dated 10 May 1993. She signed a declaration of truth on the first page.
By now, in 1993, it was six years on from the trial of Bishop for the murders – six years after she had lied on oath about what she knew about the crucial sweatshirt DE/1.
Bishop had been in prison for three years, following his convictions for kidnap, attempted murder and indecent assault.
There was no reason at all for her to lie to support to him. But she did lie. She continued to maintain the lies that she had told about the sweatshirt not belonging to Bishop.
In fact, she added to them. She made up further lies about the conduct of the police officers who came to take her statement from her, including suggesting that they had revealed Bishop’s relationship with Marion Stevenson to her and that this had upset her and denying that she had checked and initialled the statement dated 31 October 1986, suggesting that it had been fabricated by the officers.
At that time she had in fact moved on in her own life. She had a new partner and was living away from Russell Bishop. Yet, she was prepared to continue to lie for him in court proceedings.
It could not have had anything to do with the duress that she now complains of in 1987.
Eventually, in 1994, Bishop abandoned the civil action against the police.
We then move to how Russell Bishop did come to be convicted of the murders of Nicola and Karen.
The next significant step in this history of this case was when the Criminal Justice Act 2003 came into force.
And that Act changed the law in relation to what was known as “double jeopardy”. Until that point, a person who had been acquitted of criminal offences could not be tried again.
Until that point Russell Bishop, acquitted of the murders of the two girls, could not be tried again.
However, the Act changed this and allowed a person to be put on trial again for serious criminal offences, if the Court of Appeal concluded that there was new and compelling evidence against that individual.
So after that change in the law, which happened in 2003, the case against Russell Bishop for the murders of Karen and Nicola was reopened.
A vast re-examination of the scientific evidence in the case was conducted, using the latest modern technology.
In short, that exercise led to a vast amount of new and compelling evidence which was discovered and which linked the sweatshirt to the murder scene and the girls – and linked the sweatshirt to Russell Bishop.
You will hear about that evidence in summary form in this trial.
On 23 May 2016, the police obtained a DNA sample from this defendant and that was for for comparison purposes.
She told police officers that she did not accept that Bishop could be responsible for the murders, maintaining that he could not have done it alone and suggesting that it he must have done it with Douglas Judd or Barrie Fellows (the father of Nicola).
So here it was years and years later and she was implicating the father of one of the girls and Douglas Judd – someone who is entirely innocent of the murders.
The sample that was taken from her led to scientists identifying a DNA finding on that sweatshirt which actually matched her, along with the findings that matched Russell Bishop.
On 16 June 2017, the defendant contacted Sussex Police. And she was upset as she had received a phone call from the mother of Russell Bishop, that is to say Sylvia Bishop, informing her that Russell Bishop had been charged with the murders and that Sylvia Bishop had told her that she had better look out as the media would be knocking on her door.
At that time, she told the police that when she had been with Bishop as a youngster, she didn’t understand things properly, but she does now.
She said there was no way she would appear in court, due to being scared about what might happen to her and her children.
She seemed to be suggesting not an attack by Russell Bishop but an attack by some kind of third party as a result of her involvement in the case.
She described how she had stood by “that idiot” for four years after he had been convicted of the 1990 offences.
The defendant made it clear that she had no wish to assist any party and that she wished to distance herself from the whole matter.
Well, the science proved the case in any event.
Russell Bishop was tried again for the murders in October to December 2018. He was convicted of the murders of Karen and Nicola on 10 December 2018.
It was after those convictions and all the evidence that had been amassed that there was emphatic proof that DE/1 belonged to Russell Bishop and that there could be no doubt but that the defendant had lied in her statement dated 13 October 1987 and in her evidence at the trial in November 1987.
And so that is the reason that it is now that she is being prosecuted.
On 28 August 2019, police officers attended the defendant’s home address explaining the need for the defendant to be interviewed under caution.
She told the police officers that it was wrong to “drag this up” and was unfair to expect her to remember everything.
She repeated several times that the police had no idea what she had gone through over the years.
She said that she had changed and was a different person to the one she was back then.
And she said then that she was subject of abuse from Bishop and that there were no laws then to protect you like there are now.
She said the police didn’t do anything for her back then and that if she had complained, nothing would have happened anyway.
The voluntary interview under caution took place on 23 September 2019 and she had a legal representative present for that.
She admitted then in that interview that her statement of 31 October 1986 was true and that her statement of 13 October 1987 contained lies.
She also admitted in that interview that she had lied on oath at the trial in November 1987.
She maintained on a number of occasions that she had had “no choice” but had gone along with what Bishop and wanted.
She said that Bishop had subjected to her to domestic violence for several years and she had been young, weak and stupid at the time.
She said that Bishop battered her for years and that she had to do what she was told.
When Karen and Nicola were murdered, she was eight months’ pregnant with her second child.
She didn’t have money in those days. He controlled her. He used to beat her up all the time if she didn’t do as she was told. Whenever she was assaulted, the police said it was a “domestic”.
And it didn’t matter how many times he hit her, the police didn’t help. She said you get a lot more support these days than you did then.
She was asked about the fact that Bishop was in custody … and she said that Bishop’s mother took her to visit Bishop “every day” when he would say, “You put me in here”, blaming her for giving the original statement about the Pinto.
She said that the Pinto sweatshirt, DE/1, was Bishop’s but that she was told to retract her statement of 31 October, maintaining she didn’t have a choice.
She didn’t have a choice. Nobody was there to protect her. Nobody will understand what she went through.
She always tried to protect her children. They were her life. Her children continue to suffer and they’d done nothing wrong.
She talked about the impact on her daughter Hayley and that she had had to move last year because of grief that she was getting – and she had not even been born when it happened. Her kids have gone to hell and back.
She said that she could never understand what Bishop did and that she has thought about taking her own life.
She apologised if she did wrong, accepting that lying was wrong, but maintaining that she did not have a choice.
She said she was really sorry for Karen and Nicola, as well as the parents. And she said she changed her statement – made the retraction statement – to save her and her children’s lives and she now knows that was wrong and is sorry.
She said that the Pinto sweatshirt originally belonged to her father (deceased) and it was passed on to her.
In relation to Count 1, the making of the false statement, she said that Sylvia Bishop, her mother-in-law, had told her that she had to retract her statement about DE/1.
She needed money from Sylvia, who she described as being “controlling”. She said she recalled going to the solicitor’s office and being driven there by Sylvia and her older son David Bishop. “Both of them just said I have to retract my statement.”
In relation to Count 2, her false evidence (at the Crown Court), she said: “I literally, I’ll be honest with ya, I literally can’t remember. I might’ve said … I might’ve said it’s not his. I might’ve said that. I don’t know.
“I know every day I had to live. His mum, his brothers, his family used to come up to the flat but I really can’t remember what I said. I might’ve said it wasn’t his in court. But I do know it was Lewes Crown Court.”
She was then saying that she agreed that her evidence and her statement contained lies.
She maintained that she did not want to retract her statement but she did not have a choice. When she gave evidence in the trial, she “couldn’t say what she wanted to say”.
She was asked what she wanted to say, she said that it was “what I said the first time around”.
Asked to clarify this “When I said, when the police came … and said about the sweatshirt, I said yes, when it came to the court I couldn’t say yes again. I couldn’t say yes. Cos I had all his family there watching me.”
It is that account that you will have to assess against the evidence in the case. It will be for you to determine whether or not, as she claims, she did not have any choice when she lied in the statement and on oath to help Russell Bishop.
Given the account that the defendant has given, she has now been assessed by psychiatrists, Dr Cumming and Dr Thakkar. You will hear something about that in this case.
The experts have considered the defendant as she presents now but also they have looked back at what the records suggest the position was 35 years ago in 1987.
They have considered whether or not she was the victim not just of domestic abuse but of “coercive control”. This is a term which some will be familiar with, others less so.
It suggests a pattern of manipulation and abuse being perpetrated against an individual.
This defendant has claimed she had been subjected to violence and fear to such an extent by Russell Bishop to such an extent that she was perpetually in fear or serious violence from him and no longer capable of exercising independence from him.
She told the lies that she did because she says that she had “no choice”.
As I have mentioned, the records establish occasions when Russell Bishop was violent towards the defendant. That is not in dispute.
As to whether or not a more significant pattern of abuse existed to the extent that the defendant was controlled by Russell Bishop and/or his family is something that the psychiatrists have considered.
However, many of the features suggesting fear and abuse are predicated on the defendant’s account of events.
Whether or not what she says is true in that regard will be for you to determine.
The psychiatrists have recognised that there is a limit as to what they can say in this regard.
They have also acknowledged the features of the evidence that suggest the defendant was capable in that period of being assertive – not least her behaviour when officers attended to arrest Bishop in 1990 being an obvious example.
The psychiatric evidence will assist you in understanding the underlying features that may be relevant to your considerations, but ultimately it will be for you to assess the defendant’s account that she simply had no choice.
The defendant accepts that she told lies and that those lies were significant in the context of the sweatshirt DE/1.
It follows that she has accepted most of the ingredients of the offences with which she is charged. The defence that she advances is duress. It is for the prosecution to prove that the defence does not apply in this case.
It is not for the defendant to prove that it does. That is consistent with the way in which all criminal trials work in this country.
As His Lordship has directed you, the burden is on the prosecution to prove its case to you so that you are sure. It is not for the defendant to prove her innocence.
The defence of duress is only available to this defendant if you conclude that at the time when she committed the offences in Counts 1 and 2, threats had or may have been made towards the defendant or the defendant reasonably believed such threats to have been made.
The threats have to be threats that if the defendant did not do what she was told she, or a member of her immediate family would be killed or seriously injured either immediately or almost immediately.
So this defence is only available if she was sure that those threats existed and that she or someone close to her would be seriously killed immediately or almost immediately.
If you are sure that the defendant did not believe that threats of that type existed in this case towards her then, then no duress arises.
If, for example, you conclude that her support for Russell Bishop was not about fear but her desire for him to be acquitted of the offences.
The threats have to be immediate or almost immediate. When she was interviewed by the police, the defendant did not suggest that either Russell Bishop or his family members had made a specific threat of violence at the time when she made her statement. Nor when she came to give her evidence.
She maintained that there was a generalised fear of violence that left her with no choice. That will be for you to consider in due course.
You will bear in mind that Russell Bishop was in prison at the time when she made the statement and gave evidence, so it is inconceivable that he could have inflicted violence on her at that time.
However, if you decide that the defendant did or may have believed in the existence of threats of this type, you would then go on to consider whether or not there was anything that the defendant could have done to avoid those threats.
Did the defendant take all steps to avoid the threat of violence that a reasonable person in that position would have taken?
For example, if this is true, why didn’t she tell the police who were around on many occasions?
Why didn’t she tell the judge about them when she was giving evidence?
If you are sure that there was a course of action the defendant could have taken to avoid the threat without having to commit these offences then the defence of duress does not apply.
If you decide that the defendant may have had no opportunity to escape or avoid the threatened action, then you also consider whether or not a reasonable person, in the defendant’s situation and believing what she did, would have done what the defendant did.
Would a reasonable person have responded in this way? Would a reasonable person have given a lying account to help Russell Bishop escape justice?
You will take into account the defendant’s particular circumstances, but you judge her by the standards of a reasonable person in the same position.
Would that reasonable person have done what she did? If you are sure that a reasonable person would not have done what she did, then again the defence of duress does not apply.
This defendant is not on trial for the murders of Nicola or Karen in 1986 nor for the attack on another young girl four years later in 1990.
She bears no responsibility for Russell Bishop’s terrible crimes.
She is charged with offences relating to her own conduct – offences relating to the choices that she made to support Russell Bishop and to lie in the course of criminal proceedings.
Those lies mattered. They undermined a key part of the prosecution’s case relating to attribution of the sweatshirt DE/1 to Russell Bishop.
When you look, as you will do in this trial, at the records of how she behaved in 1986 and 1987, doubtless, Russell Bishop used physical violence towards her.
Doubtless, there was considerable tension between them as a result of his relationship with Marion Stevenson that led to violent arguments between them.
But when she came to make the lying statement to Russell Bishop’s solicitor in October 1987 and when she gave lying evidence on oath in November 1987, the prosecution’s case is that she made a choice – a choice to put herself and her family first, a choice to protect Russell Bishop, a choice that she stood by for many years after that, even in the knowledge that she had lied at the trial.
Whether or not the prosecution’s case that she was not acting under duress at that time is correct will be for you to determine, having heard all of the evidence.
The trial continues.