A HEINOUS crime which led to a 32-year battle for justice is the subject of a true life book by a former police chief and crime author.

Nicola Fellows and Karen Hadaway were both just nine-years-old when they were sexually assaulted and strangled to death in Wild Park, Brighton in October 1986.

It sparked one of the biggest searches and murder investigations in Sussex Police’s history, and shocked the nation.

Evil killer Russell Bishop was charged with the murders, but was notoriously acquitted in a trial at Lewes Crown Court in December 1987.

He was later jailed for life after abducting and indecently assaulting a seven-year-old girl from Whitehawk and leaving her for dead in February 1990.

But because of the law of double jeopardy, he could not be tried again for the murders in Wild Park.

That was until the law changed, and new and compelling evidence was found.

In December 2018, he was finally found guilty, some 32 years after the crimes he had committed.

Now, retired Brighton police commander Graham Bartlett and thriller writer Peter James can tell the complete inside story of the Babes in the Wood.

Graham worked his way up from being a humble PC in 1989 to becoming Brighton’s top cop when he retired in 2013.

He said: “I think this is the first time anyone has been able to tell the full inside story of policing the Babes in the Wood inquiry.

“It was a 32-year investigation of a horrendous tragedy.

“We have the moving scenes in the community, the injustice, and then the years until Bishop was retried.”

For Peter James, only a book could ever tell the story of what happened in the detail needed, rather than television documentaries.

Both men said they felt it was an important public duty to get to the heart of what happened, and how important the case was to the city.

Peter said: “This damaged the community for many decades. For all the years Bishop avoided justice, Moulsecoomb felt tainted with this horrendous incident.

“There were whispers, did he do it? If not him, then who? There may have been someone else in the community.”

It’s a view shared by Graham, who first started working as a PC in Moulsecoomb in 1989, in the wake of Bishop escaping justice.

He said: “I began my career in Moulsecoomb as a PC. During that time, this injustice hung like a spectre.

“As Brighton’s divisional commander later on, this was always either in the background, or sometimes in the foreground.

“But, frankly for us, there was never anyone else in the frame for these murders. We were convinced it was Bishop all the way.”

The idea for their book on Babes in the Wood was itself part of the saga.

Previously the two wrote Death Comes Knocking, an exploration of Graham’s career in policing, which was set to include a chapter on the 1990 investigation that led to Bishop’s second capture.

Bishop had abducted, sexually abused and choked a seven-year-old girl from Whitehawk before leaving her for dead at Devil’s Dyke.

He had tried to discard his clothes, but by a miracle, the girl survived and was able to identify him.

But Graham and Peter were told they had to remove the chapter, as police told them that Bishop was to be charged with the murder of Nicola and Karen, leading to reporting restrictions on anything that could affect a second trial.

Graham said: “It was two weeks before the release, we got an email from Sussex Police.

“My first reaction was ‘oh my goodness, what does this mean for the book?’ But my enduring reaction was that we could take whatever time was necessary. It looked like justice was on the horizon, removing a chapter was to pale into insignificance.”

The time allowed them to explore in new detail how policing has changed, and how a “tantalising” piece of evidence, Bishop’s Pinto sweatshirt, revealed its DNA secrets.

The book also reveals the court drama of the second trial, and the ongoing impact on the families, who Graham and Peter have worked with.

Graham said: “The science caught up with Bishop. He was combative at his trial, but he was exposed as a cowardly, arrogant and evil psychopath.”

l Babes in the Wood is out on February 20