THE DEATH of a student who went missing in 1980 has been ruled a murder by a coroner – 42 years after she vanished.

The body of Eastbourne student Jessie Earl was discovered in dense undergrowth near Beachy Head in 1989 - nine years after she disappeared from her bedsit in Upperton Gardens.

Her skeleton was found with no belongings or clothes apart from her bra, which was tied in a knot.

A second inquest into the 22-year-old’s death, which began on Tuesday at Eastbourne Town Hall, heard that she was “probably” tied to a tree and “possibly” sexually assaulted before her suspected murder.

On Thursday, East Sussex assistant coroner James Healy-Pratt ruled that her death was unlawful killing by murder.

The coroner went on to describe Sussex Police’s 1989 investigation and subsequent decision to dispose of key forensic evidence as “significantly flawed” and said her parents John and Valerie Earl had been “victims of a substantial injustice”.

It comes decades after a 1989 inquest into Ms Earl’s death recorded an open verdict following the police inquiry.

In 2000, Sussex Police reopened the case under the name Operation Silk and concluded that Ms Earl was murdered, but nobody has been arrested.

In December last year, the High Court ruled there should be an order quashing the original inquest and that a fresh one should be held.

Mr Healy-Pratt told the inquest that the scientific cause of death is “unascertained” but that he will record the conclusion that Ms Earl was murdered.

“I do not consider there to be evidence of suicide, accident, misadventure or natural causes that would justify any conclusion of such short form conclusion,” he said.

“I’m satisfied on the evidence that Jessie was murdered, that she was killed by a third party perpetrator who intended to kill her.”

The coroner ruled that Ms Earl’s body was “hidden some 70 metres inside an inaccessible area of dense thicket”.

“The only item accompanying her remains was a knotted brassiere,” he said.

“A third party perpetrator used the brassiere to restrain Jessie by the wrists and had intentionally killed her by means unknown.”

He added that the tightness of the knot in the bra was “was due to being tied tightly by a third party, or subjected to struggling, or being loaded with weight through suspension or dragging”.

Mr Healy-Pratt also said that a 1980 report by Sussex Police Detective Sergeant Dusty Miller, which ruled suicide as the most likely explanation in the original missing persons case, “had a chilling effect on police efforts to investigate her disappearance”.