THE BBC said it is a “matter of very deep regret” that investigators could not find clothes belonging to Babes in the Wood victim - after they were taken by Martin Bashir for DNA testing.

The broadcaster launched a review into what had happened to Karen Hadaway's belongings, taken by the disgraced reporter in 1991 as part of investigations for the social affairs programme Public Eye.

After being grilled by MPs, the BBC's director general Tim Davie admitted the corporation had concluded that “regrettably thirty years on, little more can be done to find the missing clothes”.

But he insisted that the "unavailability of the clothing had no material impact" on killer Russell Bishop eventually being brought to justice for the double-murder that shocked the city.

In a letter, Mr Davie said: “This should never have happened... the distress caused to the families is a matter of very deep regret.”

The clothes belonged to schoolgirl Karen, who was found sexually assaulted and strangled alongside Nicola Fellows in a woodland den in Brighton in October 1986, in what became known as the Babes in the Wood murders.

In 1987, Bishop was found not guilty of their murder.

On August 15 1991, Karen’s mother, Michelle Hadaway, handed over her daughter's clothing for DNA testing.

The BBC confirmed the clothes were lost after being given to Mr Bashir, who signed a receipt for them, adding that it was “fundamentally wrong that better care was not taken of the clothing”.

In 2002 and 2004, Ian Heffron, uncle of Nicola Fellows, contacted the BBC for the clothing, following reform of the law relating to double jeopardy, which would allow Bishop to be retried.

However, BBC investigators were unable to locate the clothing.

Mr Davie added: "We are appalled that it did and extend our sincere apologies to the families, both that the clothing was lost in such circumstances and that we have been unable, both now and in 2004, to give them any answers about what happened to the clothing.”

The story of the lost clothing re-emerged following the publication of Lord Dyson’s report on the 1995 Panorama interview with the late Diana Princess of Wales, where reporter Mr Bashir was found to have deceived the princess in order to obtain his exclusive interview with her.

Mr Davie appeared before the digital, culture, media and sport committee in September.

Afterwards, he wrote to the committee's chairman Julian Knight MP.

The letter, dated November 8, was published by the committee on Tuesday,

Mr Davie explained how he had instructed one of his senior editorial executives to oversee a review of what steps had been taken in 2004 to find the clothes and “to ensure that there was no further action that we could take now that may help to locate them”.

As part of the review, Mr Bashir acknowledged that he had signed a receipt for the clothes, but “very regrettably” had no recollection of what had happened to them.

The review, which was “hampered by the passage of time,” concluded that the clothes had not been found.

In the letter, Mr Davie added: “We hope that it is some little consolation that the police have confirmed that all forensic evidence needed had been already obtained from the clothing in 1986 and stored separately and therefore the unavailability of the clothing had no material impact on the investigation or the 2018 prosecution which eventually brought Russell Bishop to justice.”

Bishop was eventually convicted at a retrial in 2018.

He is currently serving life in prison with a minimum term of 36 years.

A BBC spokesman said: “The BBC is extremely sorry for the distress this has caused Ms Hadaway and we deeply regret we have not been able to give her any answers about what happened.

“The director general wrote to Ms Hadaway to offer our sincere apologies for the distress caused to her and her family, and extended that apology to the family of Nicola Fellows.”