THE families of the Babes in the Woods will today mark the anniversary of their murders for the first time since their killer was brought to justice.

The families of Nicola Fellows and Karen Hadaway spent more than 30 years campaigning for justice and annually used the anniversary of their deaths to highlight their ongoing fight.

But today the girls’ families will mark the anniversary knowing their killer Russell Bishop will spend the next 35 years prison.

Nicola’s uncle Nigel Heffron said: “The families will be visiting the tree in Wild Park as we have done for the past 32 years. The overgrowth has been cleared away and we will be decorating the hawthorn tree as we have always done.”

Karen and Nicola, both nine, were strangled by Bishop in Wild Park, near their homes in Moulsecoomb, Brighton, on October 9, 1986.

The Argus:

The families have held an annual vigil at the hawthorn bush nearest to the spot where the girls bodies were found.

The tree became symbolic of their fight for justice.

Today their meeting at the tree – at about the same time of day the worried families began the search party for their missing youngsters 33 years ago – will be the first vigil since Bishop was convicted.

But Karen’s mother Susan Eismann told The Argus earlier this year: “There is no chance of closure yet. It still feels so raw to me. People think I’m coping, but I’m not.

“One person took my life and happiness away from me.

“Nine years of a life, it’s no life at all.

“When I heard Bishop’s sentence and they said 35 years I thought ‘that isn’t a lot’.

The Argus:

“We have already had almost 35 years and he is only now facing justice for what he did to Nicky and Karen.”

Susan’s son Jonathan died shortly before Bishop’s retrial and he never saw his sister’s killer brought to justice.

Nigel previously told The Argus the families “would go insane” if they dwelled on what happened to the girls in the woods but the tree and the park had become a peaceful memorial site for them.

He added: “We come back here as the families of two young girls to share a solemn moment.”

After a catalogue of police failings Bishop was acquitted at his first trial in 1987 at Lewes Crown Court but last December was finally found guilty of the murders which have haunted Brighton ever since.

A change in the double jeopardy laws in 2003, which allowed suspects to be tried for the same crime twice, and advances in DNA and forensic technology, meant Bishop was finally put back in the dock and found guilty last December.