The twisted partner of the Babes in the Wood killer has been jailed for six years after lying about key evidence that saw him walk free from court.
Mother-of-four Jennifer Johnson, 55, misled Russell Bishop’s first trial in 1987, leading to him being cleared despite murdering nine-year-old friends Nicola Fellows and Karen Hadaway in Brighton.
She was finally found guilty on Monday of perverting the course of justice after 34 years of evading punishment and – although she refused to attend her Lewes Crown Court sentencing – will now be jailed.
Johnson 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.
That 1987 acquittal saw him go on to kidnap, sexually assault and try and kill another girl at Devils Dyke on the South Downs three years later, which did see him subsequently jailed.
But 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 after the same jumper was forensically linked to him. He refused to attend his own sentencing, despite a judge ordering he must.
On Monday Johnson’s lies saw her finally brought to book after 34 years of agony for Bishop’s victims.
Michelle Johnson, the mother of Karen who is not related to the defendant, said : ‘Jennifer Johnson lied on oath at the very court where she had just been convicted of perjury and perverting the course of justice. Her wicked lies about a crucial piece of evidence subsequently helped her boyfriend, the murdering, psychopathic paedophile escape justice for the double murder of two innocent little girls, my beautiful Karen and her friend, Nicky.’
She said that after the acquittal Bishop and Johnson, who had signed a £15,000 deal with a Sunday newspaper, spent two days eating fine food and drinking champagne all paid for by the paper.
‘Not only had we lost our daughter but the evil monster who had done it walked free. The evil lies this woman told had very serious consequences because three years later, on the anniversary of Karen and Nicola’s funeral that evil man struck again. This time it was a seven year old little girl who was attacked,’ she added.
She said Johnson was a ‘pathological liar’ who could have prevented the 1990 attack if she hadn’t told her lies ‘But she was besotted with Bishop.’
Lorna Heffron said: ‘Jennifer Johnson perverted the course of justice for our beautiful girls Nicola and Karen, as well as for the seven year old little girl who suffered immensely in the wake of Bishop’s wrongful acquittals.
‘The wheels of justice and they turn incredibly slowly. Justice has finally been served on someone who thought she was untouchable.’
She said: ‘Johnson was infatuated with her lover, the paedophile, double child murderer Russell. She helped him walk free in 1987 with her lies under oath. Had she not lied, Bishop may have been found guilty. He may not have been free to attack again, which of course he did less than three years after he had been acquitted.’
Jennifer Johnson, Russell Bishop’s girlfriend, pictured leaving Brighton Magistrates Court on left and after the first trial on the right
The letter from Johnson to Bishop showed she only cared for him, not his victims
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
Johnson had admitted lying, but 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.
Love letters sent from Johnson to him during the Devils Dyke case and shown to these jurors, had laid bare the lengths she would go to for him.
They trilled: ‘I’m not going to leave you so don’t worry because I won’t. cos I love you very much and I will write every day because you’re special to me and you mean all the world too.
‘Don’t get worried when I’m not up with your mum as I can’t get a babysitter all the time but I’m still thinking of you love.
‘Can we get married quite soon and I will book the church OK? It is wonderful that you want to marry me. It’s not prison talk is it love? I haven’t got a lot to say so bye for now.’
The letter includes pictures of hearts with arrows through it and the phrases ‘true love’ and ‘I love you’.
Outside court Lorna Heffron, Nicola’s cousin, branded Bishop ‘an evil paedophile’ whose actions had ‘devastated and destroyed’ two families.
She said he was only freed due to a huge miscarriage of justice in which Johnson played a key part.
Miss Heffron said: ‘She helped blur the lines. She blatantly perverted the course of justice for Nicky and Karen.
‘She had plenty of opportunity to tell the truth back then and in past three decades. She lied at every opportunity.’
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.
She said her demeanour at the 1987 was ‘smug and self-assured’.
‘She must pay her price in the part she played in the miscarriage of justice. Her devious lies have impacted on us all. The past has caught up with someone who hid in plain sight believing she was untouchable.’
New DNA techniques linked the killer 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.’
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.
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.
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.
‘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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