T

he ex-girlfriend of ‘Babes in the Wood’ killer Russell Bishop has been convicted of perjury and perverting the course of justice at his 1987 murder trial.

Bishop was convicted in 2018 of the killings of schoolgirls Karen Hadaway and Nicola Fellows in the 1980s and is now serving a life sentence.

But more than 30 years ago he evaded justice when a jury acquitted him of the murders, after his then-girlfriend Jennifer Johnson told a string of lies from the witness stand.

Johnson, now 55, claimed her lies – including about a sweatshirt which was a crucial piece of evidence – had been fueled by fear and intimidation by Bishop and his family.

But a jury at Lewes crown court today rejected her defence as they convicted her of perjury and perverting the course of justice.

The killing of schoolgirls Nicola Fellows and Karen Hadaway became known as the Babes in the Wood murders after their bodies were found in a woodland den in Brighton, East Sussex, in October 1986.

The nine-year-olds were out playing when they were snatched by Bishop, sexually assaulted, and then strangled.

He insisted another person had been responsible for the deaths, and was bolstered at his 1987 trial by Johnson’s lies.

Russell Bishop (Sussex Police/PA) / PA Media

She initially told police that a blue Pinto sweatshirt found discarded near to the scene of the murders was Bishop’s, but changed her story at trial. Senior CPS prosecutor Libby Clark said the pivotal evidence created a “nightmare” scenario and had a “hugely detrimental effect” on the prosecution’s case.

Three years later in 1990, Bishop went on to kidnap and sexually assault another young girl who he left for dead, which put him behind bars for attempted murder and sexual assault.

After advances in forensic science and a change in the double jeopardy law, Bishop was retried and convicted in 2018 and jailed.

“Although she’s not responsible for the actions of Russell Bishop in 1990, the acquittal did give him the opportunity to go on to commit those other offences”, said Ms Clark.

Today in court, Karen and Nicola’s families wiped away tears as Johnson was convicted.

Lorna Heffron, Nicola Fellows’ cousin, faced Jennifer Johnson in court, saying the murders were “like dropping a grenade into both of our families”.

“Johnson played a huge part in helping to blur the lines of Bishop’s first trial by her devious actions of perjury”, she said.

“She had plenty of opportunity to tell the truth back then and during the past three decades.

A blue Pinto sweatshirt worn by Russell Bishop (Sussex Police/PA) / PA Media

“It was in her gift to tell the truth but she chose to lie.”

Ms Clark said Johnson’s trial was “unfinished business” for the grieving relatives.

“What it must have been like for the families, who knew Jennifer Johnson, to have sat there (in 1987) expecting her to say one thing and then to say something which was completely contrary to the statement that she’d given to the police.

“So they’ve had decades really of despair until the conviction of Bishop in 2018, and must have thought an awful lot about what Jennifer Johnson’s role in all of that was in terms of giving the false evidence before the court.”

Johnson has been remanded in custody until sentencing on Wednesday.

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