A FLAWED police response which dismissed the murder of a student as suicide caused her family more than 40 years of anguish, a coroner said.

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 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 second inquest described police investigations as woefully inadequate.

“The disposal of the bra, and the decision-making by the Sussex Police leading up to its disposal was significantly flawed,” East Sussex assistant coroner James Healy-Pratt said.

The coroner said the Earl family had been let down by police, and praised them for their resilience in battling to bring her killer to justice.

Recording a conclusion of unlawful killing, he said: “I am satisfied on the evidence that Jessie was murdered because she was killed unlawfully by a third party perpetrator who intended to kill her.”

The coroner criticised Sussex Police after a 1980 report was only released to the family on the first day of the new inquest.

“DS Miller concluded that suicide was the most likely outcome. Curiously, there is no evidence to support suicide as the most likely outcome.

“It would have a chilling effect on police efforts to investigate the disappearance of Jessie.”

He described the investigation which followed the discovery of Jessie’s body as rapid and rudimentary.

Jessie Earl’s death was not recorded as a crime by Sussex Police until 2000 when they produced the Silk Report.

A review of Silk produced in 2009 was not disclosed to the family or the coroner, despite repeated requests for information.

The review included more details including possible leads, the inquest heard.

The disappearance of Jessie Earl has been linked to murderers Peter Tobin and David Fuller who both lived in the area at the time.

Two weeks before she disappeared, Jessie told her mum she met a middle-aged man on the Downs.

“She had then said something along the lines of, ‘I wish men would be prepared to be just friends’,” the coroner said.

“Her mother formed the impression that the man had possibly wanted more than a casual friendship.

“Jessie had commented that she did not want to be at her Eastbourne address on May 5, 1980, in case ‘he’ was passing through Eastbourne. Her mother took this reference to related to the man she had met on the Downs.”

Mr Healy-Pratt told the family: “The Earl family have, through no fault of their own, had to endure nearly 42 years of waiting since their daughter Jessie was taken from them, for meaningful official recognition of how she died.

“The Earl family have at all times demonstrated remarkable resilience and stoicism, and are to be commended.”