MICHELLE Hadaway has held a vigil in the woods where her daughter was killed for 31 years.

She is the mother of Karen Hadaway, who was murdered aged nine in Brighton’s Wild Park in 1986.

The bodies of Karen and her friend Nicola Fellows were left side by side, as if sleeping, in a forest den. They became known as the Babes in the Wood.

The girls’ families have held a yearly memorial in the park for three decades on the anniversary of the girls’ deaths.

But Michelle, now 62, said Wednesday’s vigil would be her last.

It was the first time the families have held the memorial knowing the girls’ killer Russell Bishop will spend the next 35 years behind bars.

The roofer from was Hollingdean was initially cleared of murdering the children in 1987. But, last year, he was found guilty after a “one in a billion” DNA match.

He was already in prison for attacking and kidnapping another child.

At last week’s woodland service there were fairy lights and a new sculpture to symbolise the hands of justice.

Michelle said: “This is the last year we’re going to the park. We always said years ago we’ll be coming here every year until we get justice.

“It cripples me every single time. It’s a constant reminder that this is where they were killed and where their bodies were found.

“I don’t want to go up there for wrong reasons. In my heart, it’s not what I want or need. I’m laying their spirits to rest.

“I’m never going to get over what happened. But at last we have some closure to the horror of it.”

Since Karen’s death, Michelle’s mother, husband Lee, and brother have all died.

She said: “My grief has been on hold for 30 odd years. Now we’ve got justice, I can finally grieve for all the loved ones I’ve lost. You can’t change the past, and I decided I had to go forward rather than back.

“Justice had always been the light at the end of the tunnel. We took on evil, and we won.”

Michelle is uncomfortable with the way the girls are remembered as victims.

She said: “I don’t want them remembered as Babes in the Wood. They were two little nine-year-old, laughing, smiling, happy children – not two little girls murdered in a park by someone they knew and trusted.

“They were just two happy, smiling, beautiful little children going about their lives.

“Children should be allowed to go out and not get ripped off the street and killed.”

She said her daughter’s death had left a devastating impact on their family.

“It destroyed my husband”, she said. “He was a laughing, happy man. I loved him: I adored him. We never had a lot but what we had was ours.

“He had to hear his daughter was murdered on the radio.

“And he had to identify his daughter at the mortuary. He came out a complete and utter stranger. I never got him back.

“I had to be strong, and look after my children and my babies.

“It will be difficult for a time now. But the future’s got to be a little bit better.

“My youngest son’s just had a little girl. His baby was born last Sunday night. I’ve got seven grandchildren now. All these children keep me busy.”

The yearly vigil at Wild Park will continue and others will carry on attending.

Nicola Fellows’ cousin Emma Heffron-Pickett said: “I’m still going to go every year, for the family. Our side are all going. That place is a memorial for us. It wouldn’t feel same if we didn’t go.”