Monday, 24 Jun 2024

Man describes the moment he found the bodies of two murdered schoolgirls in the woods

A hospital porter has described the moment he found the bodies of two murdered schoolgirls in a woodland den 32 years ago.

Kevin Rowland was just 18 when he joined the search for missing Nicola Fellows and Karen Hadaway.

He told jurors his first words on making the grim discovery were: “Shit, I think we’ve found them.”

Mr Rowland was giving evidence in the second trial of convicted paedophile Russell Bishop for the murders, following his acquittal in 1987.

The witness told the Old Bailey he met up with 18-year-old Matthew Marchant to join the search the day after the girls disappeared on October 9 1986.

They went to look in an overgrown area near steps known locally as Jacob’s Ladder, in Wild Park on the South Downs, near Brighton.

He noticed a pink or purple jumper then the side of a young girl’s face, jurors heard.

He said: “I stopped because I knew there was a young girl there and I did not want to go any further.”

Asked what his first words were, he said: “Shit, I think we’ve found them.”

Mr Rowland said he sat down and sent his friend to find police.

Two or three minutes later, Mr Marchant returned with Bishop and his dog following behind.

The witness said he thought Bishop had shouted “have you found anything yet” and “where are you?”.

Mr Rowland told jurors that Bishop sat next to him and did not get any closer to the girls, despite trying to.

He said: “He tried to step over me but I put my arm out to stop him.”

They were joined by Pc Paul Smith – nicknamed Smudge – two or three minutes later, he said.

Mr Rowland said his friend was given his police helmet and sent off to wave it to get help.

Pc Smith then went to check on the girls while Mr Rowland and Bishop remained sitting, jurors heard.

The witness said: “He had to crawl through the undergrowth. He traversed to the right to where the girls were.”

On his return, Pc Smith radioed in to say he had checked each girl but found no pulse, the court heard.

It was claimed on Bishop’s behalf that Mr Rowland and his friend had both looked at the girls’ bodies.

It was also alleged that Bishop had gone up to where the bodies were and felt for a pulse.

The witness repeatedly denied it, saying: “Absolutely not.”

Earlier, former local resident Janet Reid changed her account of one of the last sightings of the girls.

Mrs Reid had given evidence for the defence anonymously as “Mrs White” in Bishop’s 1987 trial, the court heard.

The day before she was due to give evidence again – this time for the prosecution – Mrs Reid altered the time she spotted Nicola and Karen by two hours.

She originally told police she saw the victims standing with chip paper opposite her home as she said goodbye to her father on the evening of October 9 1986.

She recalled Nicola, who was a school friend of her daughter, had waved at her at about 6.25pm.

She estimated the time because her father left at about 6.20pm and on her return indoors, TV soap opera Crossroads was just starting at 6.30pm.

But on Monday, she altered her story, saying it was more like 8.20pm – two hours later.

She explained that since giving evidence in 1987, she had realised they had waited to watch a film called Runaway Train.

She told jurors she was visited three times by Nicola’s father Barrie Fellows, someone she thought was with Karen’s father and police later that night.

Prosecutor Brian Altman QC said: “Do all those timings have to go back two hours?”

The witness, who refused to say her name in court, replied: “Don’t know.”

Joel Bennathan QC, for Bishop, said: “When you gave evidence in the crown court last time you asked and were allowed to give a name which is not your name – Mrs White.

“And the reason you asked the judge on that occasion was because you told him you have had some trouble since you became a witness in this case?

“I’m not pointing the finger anywhere about the source of these problems. It was a very high-profile, terrible crime.”

The witness said: “Yes it was.”

The lawyer went on: “Local feeling ran high about it. You were saying you had seen these two little girls eating chips, you and your family had threats.”

Mrs Reid said: “Yes we did.”

Mr Bennathan said incidents included damage to her husband’s motorbike and taxis turning up which had not been ordered.

The witness agreed, adding: “We had boulders through the window.”

She also confirmed that Nicola had twice told her daughter that the father she lived with was “not her real dad” and that one day she would run away to find her real father in the North.

As she completed her evidence, she said: “I don’t wish to talk about it again. It’s too upsetting.”

Bishop, 52, originally from Brighton, has denied two counts of murder.

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