The perjury case against Babes in the Wood murderer Russell Bishop’s ex girlfriend Jennie Johnson has opened at Lewes Crown Court.
This is what Alison Morgan, prosecuting, told the jury about the case against Jennifer Nancy Johnson, also known as Jennifer Robinson, 55, of Saunders Park Road, Brighton, in the first session this morning (Friday 16 April). She said …
In 1987, this defendant lied in a witness statement prepared for the purposes of giving evidence in a criminal trial like this.
She then lied on oath when she gave evidence during the course of the trial.
She lied because she was seeking to assist and protect her former partner, a man called Russell Bishop. The trial related to him.
He was charged with the murders of two young school girls, Nicola Fellows and Karen Hadaway, who had been murdered and sexually assaulted in October 1986.
Their bodies were found in woodland in Wild Park in Brighton.
This defendant now accepts that she lied in both the witness statement and when she gave evidence on oath during the course of Russell Bishop’s trial.
By lying in the way that she did, it is the prosecution’s case that she wanted to help Russell Bishop to be acquitted of those serious offences of murder.
Russell Bishop was acquitted of those offences at the trial which took place in November and December 1987.
He was then released from custody and returned to live with the defendant and their children.
Three years later in 1990, and 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 during that trial.
This time, however, Russell Bishop was convicted of the offences of attempted murder and sexual assault and sentenced to a life sentence.
It took 30 years and a change in the law in this country for Russell Bishop to be re-tried for the original offences of the murders of Nicola Fellows and Karen Hadaway.
Finally, in 2018, as a result of new scientific evidence which proved Bishop’s guilt of the murders of Nicola and Karen beyond any sensible doubt, he was convicted of those murders by a jury.
Following on from those convictions, this defendant now stands trial for having lied – lied to assist Russell Bishop to escape justice all of those years ago back in 1987.
There are two counts on the indictment.
Count 1, perverting the course of justice, relates to a witness statement made by the defendant for the purposes of Russell Bishop’s trial in 1987.
Count 2, perjury, relates to the evidence that she gave at the trial.
In short, in both the witness statement and in her evidence in court, the defendant told lies.
She told lies that were important in the case.
In particular, she lied about whether or not a sweatshirt, called exhibit DE/1, belonged to Russell Bishop.
That sweatshirt was very important in the case against Russell Bishop.
There was scientific evidence available back in 1987 which linked that sweatshirt DE/1 to the crime scene where the girls were found.
It follows that if that sweatshirt could be shown to have belonged to Russell Bishop, it would have been extremely important in the case against him.
This defendant Jennifer Johnson knew the importance of that sweatshirt and told lies about it. In telling those lies, the prosecution alleges that she intended to pervert the course of justice, that is to say, to affect the outcome of the criminal trial in Russell Bishop’s favour.
And then she lied, giving evidence which she knew was deliberately false.
What is beyond any doubt at all is that Russell Bishop is a child murderer.
He has been convicted by two different juries of two offences of murder, one offence of attempted murder and sexual assault.
It will not surprise you to learn, knowing that, that back in 1986 and 1987, he was a violent and unpleasant man.
The defendant was his partner for many years and the mother of his three children.
Their relationship will form an important context to the allegations that you decide in this case.
In this trial, it will be suggested on her behalf that she was forced to make those false witness statement, that she was forced to give false evidence by Russell Bishop and by Russell Bishop’s family.
She will say in this trial that she had “no choice”.
She will say that she was young and that she was the victim of domestic abuse and coercive control.
And she will say in legal terms that when she died what she did – that when she lied in the witness statement and when she was on oath giving evidence – that she did, she was acting under duress.
That will be the issue for you to decide in this trial. You will have to consider whether or not, as the defendant claims, she really was incapable of choice, that she did not have a choice back in 1987 when she lied in the trial that resulted in Russell Bishop’s acquittal of the murders of the two young girls, Karen and Nicola.
There is no doubt that the defendant’s relationship with Russell Bishop was volatile and indeed was violent at times.
The prosecution will not be suggesting otherwise to you. And you will well understand and accept that domestic abuse and coercive control when they do happen are extremely serious issues which affect many women.
The extent to which they affected this defendant will be for you to determine.
And you, in doing that, will look at the way she behaved before, during and after the offences with which she is charged to consider whether or not, and to what extent, those features existed and were relevant to the commission of these offences.
On Friday 10 October 1986, the bodies of two nine-year-old girls, Nicola Fellows and Karen Hadaway, were found dead in the woods at Wild Park in Brighton.
The girls both went missing the night before their bodies were found.
Post-mortem examinations revealed that both girls had been strangled to death and that they had been sexually assaulted.
In the immediate aftermath of the discovery of the bodies, the main suspect that emerged was Russell Bishop. The defendant was the partner of Bishop.
Bishop was a roofer by occupation, although often unemployed, and he was 20 years old at the time of the murders.
The defendant was also 20 years old at the time and she was pregnant with their second child.
17 Stephens Road is the address where Russell Bishop lived with the defendant and their young son and that is in the Hollingdean area of Brighton.
That address, 17 Stephens Road, is about one and a half miles away from where the girls lived in Newick Road.
Their addresses are closer to Wild Park where the bodies were found.
Following one route from Wild Park to Stephens Road takes you past Moulsecoomb Railway Station.
That location is significant because it was there, just by Moulsecoomb Railway Station, that the sweatshirt was recovered from the area near the railway station shortly after the murders.
It was the ownership of this sweatshirt that the defendant would lie about in the trial in 1987 in order to protect Russell Bishop.
At the time of the murders, the defendant was working as a cleaner in the offices of American Express in Brighton.
She was about pregnant with Russell Bishop’s child. And Russell Bishop and the defendant were both known to the families of the girls.
Despite being in a long-term relationship with the defendant, Bishop was also in a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old girl called Marion Stevenson.
And that relationship that Russell Bishop was having with Marion Stevenson caused many arguments between the defendant and Russell Bishop.
In fact it resulted in a number of incidents of violence and aggression between the defendant and Russell Bishop and it all happened in the months before the murders of the girls in Wild Park.
In May and June 1986, police and social services records exist which document the arguments taking place between the defendant and Bishop.
It is clear that Bishop was violent towards the defendant and one officer noticed bruising to her face and neck on one occasion. The defendant was noted to be very distressed.
And arguments took place about that relationship that Bishop was having with Marion Stevenson.
There is no doubt that that relationship and that Bishop behaved badly.
The defendant was capable – and this is shown in the records – of responding with aggression herself, particularly towards the girl Marion Stevenson.
You will want to consider this background and when you consider what the defendant did and whether that was relevant to the lies that she told.
The girls disappeared in the early evening of 9 October 1986. As you can imagine, this led to a huge manhunt for them in the hours and days that followed.
Police officers first came to speak to Russell Bishop about the disappearance of the girls in the early hours of 10 October and that was at his home address at about 2.30am on 10 October 1986.
At that time, the bodies had still not been discovered.
The defendant opened the door and showed them into a bedroom, where Russell Bishop was in bed.
The police officers asked Bishop, in the presence of the defendant, whether he knew the girls and he confirmed that he did.
He was asked when he had last seen them and he said: “When I was walking home from Moulsecoomb last night, I saw them at about 5 o’clock talking to the park keeper at the entrance to Wild Park.”
This defendant then suggested that the girls were friends with Marion Stevenson at 19 Barcombe Road and suggested that the police go round there.
The police officers said to Mr Bishop that they would return later to take a statement from him.
And they did. Police officers returned at about 10am that day and Bishop was questioned again.
Significantly, and in the presence of the defendant, Bishop was also asked about the clothing that he had been wearing at the relevant time of the incident. He was asked open questions about the clothing that he was wearing on the day.
As he responded, this defendant interjected, saying that Russell Bishop had been wearing a blue top and jeans.
She then went into the kitchen and came back with a blue sweatshirt with a stripe across the chest.
Bishop then agreed that he had been wearing the clothes that the defendant produced from the kitchen.
You will want to consider the defendant’s behaviour at the time. Were these the actions of a dominated and fearful individual, terrified of getting involved?
Or was the defendant behaving in an assertive way, directing the police to clothing that she claimed Russell Bishop had been wearing the day before?
So those are the first exchanges that took place on the morning of 10 October.
The sweatshirt DE/1 was found in the area near Moulsecoomb Railway Station in the afternoon of 10 October 1986 and was handed into the police.
And it was shortly afterwards that the bodies of the girls were found and a full murder investigation began.
The defendant provided a statement to the police on 19 October 1986. A typed copy of that statement is in your “jury bundle”.
It states her name, Jennifer Nancy Johnson, and gives her occupation as housewife and office cleaner.
This was a statement in which she explains her relationship with Russell Bishop.
She described herself as being the common-law wife of Russell Bishop.
I have known Russell Bishop for the past three years and lived with him for two years.
I got to know Russell through CB (Citizen’s Band) radio. I was an enthusiast.
106 Heathfield Avenue, Bevendean, my handle being Panda Bear and Russell’s Silver Bullet.
Up until this point my relationship with Russell was quite happy but the he formed a relationship with Marion Stevenson at 19 Barcombe Road.
She was a regular at a pub called the Hiker’s Rest. She got to know the bar staff and one of them was Michelle Hadaway, the mothers of one of the two girls.
(She also spoke about pub regulars playing Sunday football and, through this, getting to know Barrie and Sue Fellows, the parents of Nicola Fellows – Karen Hadaway’s friend.)
(She also described her life at that time. She spoke of her job cleaning for American Express in Brighton.)
In this statement she didn’t mention anything negative about Russell Bishop other than that he was having a relationship with Marion Stevenson.
(She also spoke about coming home and finding Bishop watching TV, with wet hair, having had a bath and done his own washing.)
As the investigation developed, the significance of the sweatshirt DE/1, which had been found next to the railway station, became more apparent.
This sweatshirt had a motif and that was the word Pinto.
On the back of the garment, there is a red stain. That is not blood. It is paint.
As the investigation developed it became obvious that it was a significant garment.
Police officers went to the family address on 31 October 1986 at 10.50am.
The purpose of the visit was to take the garment, in a sealed packet, to the address of the defendant and Russell Bishop to ask the defendant to identify it as belonging to Russell Bishop.
At that time, Russell Bishop was not in the house because Russell Bishop was in the police station being questioned at police officers.
There were three police officers who attended: PC David Edwards, known locally by the nickname of Spud, DC Evans and DC Penry.
PC Edwards knew the defendant because he had gone the address in Stephens Road on the occasion of one of the domestic incidents earlier that year.
As the officers went into the address, DC Evans had the sweatshirt and the defendant said: “Oh you’ve brought Russell’s jumper back.”
But it wasn’t the garment that they had already taken from her.
She was asked: “Is it Russell’s?”
And she responded: “Yes, he’s got one exactly like it.”
DC Evans said ‘How long has he had it?’
She replied: “Some while. I don’t remember.”
He said: “It’s got a motif on the front. Can you tell me if Russell’s had one?”
She replied: “Yes, it’s a name which begins with P or something.”
DC Evans asked if they could look in the wardrobe to see if it was there. They both went to the bedroom and she looked through the wardrobe but could not find another garment of that description.
The defendant said: “I’ll tell you what Russell has got on his, that’s some red on one of the sleeves. It was where he was rubbing down one of his cars … it’s compound or something. I’ve got some trousers of his with it on.”
What she was talking about was Russell Bishop doing paint respraying of cars.
At that time, the defendant could not have realised how significant her comments would become.
Because what she had done was identify the crucial garment in the investigation as belonging to Russell Bishop.
After providing this account to officers, the defendant was asked to provide another statement because the police were keen to get in writing her confirming the identification of this sweatshirt as belonging to Russell Bishop.
In the statement, it begins as follows: “I was shown a light blue sweatshirt. I recognised this sweatshirt as one exactly the same that Russell had. I recall that Russell had a motif on the front of his sweatshirt, which was a name beginning with the letter ‘P’. I did not examine the sweatshirt shown to me but can say that the one that Russell had had some red compound substance on one of the sleeves. I do not recall which sleeve. This substance got on the sweatshirt while Russell was rubbing down one of his cars.”
She said that it wouldn’t wash off, adding: “He also has the same substance on a pair of light blue trousers. I do not recall the last time that I saw Russell’s sweatshirt. As far as I am concerned, I would have expected to find the sweatshirt in the wardrobe. I have looked in the wardrobe but I cannot find the sweatshirt that Russell had.”
She could not realise the significance of what she was saying.
She signed this statement and signed it as being a truthful statement – and it was a truthful statement.
As at 31 October 1986, the defendant was telling the truth about this sweatshirt and it was extremely important in the attribution of DE/1 to Russell Bishop.
DNA evidence that might show that the garment belonged to Bishop but at that time DNA science was in its infancy at that time and was not carried out.
The scientific work that was conducted in relation to paint, animal hairs and fibres, all with a view to attributing DE/1 to Bishop, was not capable of showing that the garment belonged to him.
So the defendant’s evidence that it belonged to him was important.
There was a further conversation with PC Edwards and he asked how she was and she said: “I’m not too bad, except for the fucking CID getting me up at 8.20am this morning.”
That was when police officers had been round to arrest Russell Bishop.
She was asked how things were between her and Bishop and she said: “Fine. He doesn’t knock me around any more. We lead our own lives now.”
PC Edwards asked the defendant if Bishop was still seeing Marion Stevenson and the defendant responded in this way “Don’t mention that fucking slag’s name in this place.”
She then said Bishop was not seeing Marion Stevenson any more.
She was asked how she knew where Bishop was going at night and she said: “Because he tells me where he goes.”
She was asked about what she thought about the murder of the girls and said: “That bastard should be hung.”
She was then asked: “If Russell had done it, would you protect him and not tell the police?”
She said: “I would shop him but he didn’t do it … I would know and he would tell me.”
She continued to maintain that Russell Bishop was innocent, but then said: “I accused him and that fucking slag of doing it the other day … a couple of days ago he said something to me, and I said to him ‘you and that fucking slag done it’.
She said that she repeated this to Bishop’s mother Sylvia the next day.
PC Edwards said: “It must have taken some bottle for you to have said that to Sylvia?”
And the defendant responded: “I know but once I make my mind up to say something I will.”
You will want to consider the demeanour of the defendant at that time.
Was she assertive? Making her opinions clear? Was she indicating that she had challenged both Bishop and Sylvia Bishop?
What does that tell you about their relationships and her ability to make her own decisions?
In the days that followed his arrest on 31 October 1986, Russell Bishop remained in police custody.
Meanwhile, the defendant was in contact with members of the Bishop family and with the police.
She attended Brighton Police Station, where Bishop was being interviewed on 1 and November 1986.
She indicated that she wanted to retract her first statement and would not go to court.
Then, on 2 November, when police officers wanted to speak to her in a bit more detail, she insisted on having Russell Bishop’s father present with her when police officers wanted to speak to her.
She then insisted on Bishop’s father speaking on her behalf.
When the police officers explained that this was not satisfactory, the defendant started screaming, shouting and running around the police station.
She made it clear that she was retracting her statement of 31 October 1986 as well.
So that crucial statement linking Russell Bishop to that sweatshirt DE/1 was retracted.
Russell Bishop was released from police custody as the investigation continued. Bishop, the defendant and their son Victor moved to an address of the defendant’s family in Wales for a period.
Russell Bishop was charged with the murders of the girls on 3 December 1986 and returned to custody and into the prison system, where her remained until his trial in November 1987.