A special team of detectives is being set up to re-examine unsolved murders in Sussex.

Advances in forensic science and computer technology mean officers now have a national database of information that was not previously available. One of the first cases they will examine is that of retired Worthing vet Bill Howe, brutally murdered ten years ago last month.

The new National Automated Fingerprint Identification Service, which identifies a small number of matching prints in a matter of minutes, may already have provided detectives with a breakthrough.

A force spokesman said: "It has been possible to identify fingerprints taken from a number of items that came into the Howe inquiry that could not be identified at the time. It has revealed a match between a fingerprint and those of a man currently in prison for another offence."

Detectives plan to question the man, but stress that the new lead does not necessarily identify the killer. Most re-examinations will include the use of new advances in forensic science and may involve re-interviewing witnesses, some of whom may have changed their stories. Other inquiries will be more cursory because of poor forensic evidence.

These will include the murders of "Babes in the Woods" Karen Hadaway and Nicola Fellows, nine-year-old friends murdered in Wild Park, Brighton, in 1986. Roofer Russell Bishop, currently serving life for the attempted murder of a seven-year-old girl at Devil's Dyke ten years ago this month, was charged with the killings but was cleared by a jury.

The man leading the new inquiries is Det Chief Insp Dave Gaylor, who is soon to be promoted to superintendent in charge of organisational services. His first task will be to blow the dust off old unsolved murder files.

He said developments in DNA profiling would help with the re-examinations and inquiries may include re-interviewing some witnesses.

He said: "It may be the case, as time has gone by, that witnesses have changed allegiances and may want to tell more and, perhaps, clear their consciences.This new team isn't fully in place yet, but will be in the next few weeks. We will then be working steadily through a number of unsolved inquiries."

Sussex Police have a high success rate in solving murders but, once in a while, killers have slipped through their net. Now, with modern techniques and advances in forensic science, computerised fingerprint service and refined DNA techniques, police are looking again for the ones that got away.

Bill Howe

The 63-year-old bachelor and vet was murdered at his Worthing home in 1991 by raiders for refusing to reveal the whereabouts of a safe containing cash and jewellery. He died of asphyxia after being bound and savagely beaten in his first-floor flat in Victoria Road.

At the time police said his killers would have been heavily bloodstained and, despite a £10,000 reward offered by the beneficiaries of Mr Howe's will, his assailants are still at large.

Thousands of people were interviewed during a six-month investigation, which spread to Australia, France and Africa, but detectives were unable to identify a small number of fingerprints.

Sussex Police spokesman Chris Oswick said: "During the six-month Howe inquiry, a great deal of material was obtained, including fingerprint evidence.

"Now we have use of NAFIS, or the National Automated Fingerprint Service, we can quickly check with matches or near matches, instead of going through thousands of prints manually. And advances with DNA mean samples taken at the time can be examined more thoroughly to look for matches."

Margaret Frame

The killing of this dark-haired mum in 1978 prompted hundreds of people to contact detectives with offers of help.

Mrs Frame vanished on October 12 as she made her way through Stanmer Park towards her home in Saunders Hill, Coldean, Brighton. She was attacked from behind, struck over the head, stabbed in the back and then raped.

Later, the killer returned to the wood and dragged her naked body for 500 yards before burying her in a shallow grave. All her rings were removed and an attempt was made to to sever her head.

Mrs Frame was eventually found by police searchers ten days after she disappeared. Despite intensive police inquiries, the "beast of Stanmer Park", as he became known, was never brought to justice.

Police officers involved in the case, now retired, have strong suspicions who lay behind the slaying, but there was never enough evidence to arrest anyone.

Gary Collins

The 25-year-old drugs dealer was discovered stabbed and beaten to death in woods at Brightling near Battle in 1983.

Collins, had disappeared from his home in St Thomas Road, Hastings, three months before his body was found. Beside him was the body of his much-loved cross-bred collie Trudy, who had been stabbed through the heart.

Collins' grey BMW car was found abandoned at Battle rail station and police think he may have been forced from the vehicle or led into the woods on the pretext of a drugs deal.

Police inquiries were carried out in London, where many of his drugs deals were made, and in virtually every county in the country, but to no avail.

Checks were also made in Sweden, Italy and Belgium, but vital clues remained elusive.

At one point, Sussex Police asked the FBI to question several people from Kent who were in custody in America on drugs charges.

Collins was found with a fractured skull, five stab wounds in the back and his throat had been cut. Detectives believe it may have been a contract killing.

Karen Hadaway and Nicola Fellows

The nine-year-old playmates, who lived just three doors away from each other in Newick Road, Moulsecoomb, Brighton, were found strangled in undergrowth in the nearby Wild Park in October, 1986.

Both had been sexually assaulted and Nicola had injuries consistent with having been punched.

Their deaths caused an outcry in Brighton and the trauma led to the break-up of both parents' marriages. Karen's father, Lee, died a broken man in Brighton in 1998.

Roofer Russell Bishop, cleared in 1987 of the killings, is serving life for the kidnap and attempted murder of a seven-year-old Whitehawk girl at Devil's Dyke in 1990.

Two years later, he wrote to the Argus from his cell calling for the Wild Park murder case to be reopened. He said: "I lay in my cell day and night knowing I am innocent of the murders of Karen Hadaway and Nicola Fellows. It worries me to think the people of Sussex are thinking, yes, now that Bishop is in prison we need not worry about our children going out to play. I know I am innocent and the man who did this is still out there."

Police said today they will not be taking an in-depth look at the murders because of the lack of forensic evidence from the case to re-examine. Det Chief Insp Dave Gaylor said: "We will be revisiting the case but, from a forensics point of view, there is not much we can look at."

Vishal Mehrotra

The skull and several rib bones of this eight-year-old boy were discovered in 1982 by pigeon shooters in remote marshland at Durford Abbey Farm, Rogate, near Midhurst.

Vishal vanished from his home in Putney, south-west London, while shopping with his nanny and sister, seven months earlier, shortly after watching TV coverage of the wedding of Lady Diana and Prince Charles.

Police in London launched a massive hunt for the Indian boy, searching wasteland and asking residents to check outbuildings and gardens. After hearing of his death, the boy's father broke down in tears.

Vishamba Mehrotra, then a Fleet Street solicitor, said: "I feel terrible. We lost Vishal on Royal Wedding day. "I have a daughter who is eight, but Vishal was our only son."

A mystery letter writer, who told police he might know the identity of a man who had driven to Rogate from Putney on Royal Wedding day, was later traced but soon afterwards the trail went cold.

Peter Thurgood and Lindy Benstead

The shotgun murder of these two lovers stunned the normally peaceful village of Rake, near Midhurst, in 1986.

They were blasted at point-blank range in a lover's lane, just off the A3. Mrs Benstead, 49, a married mother-of-three, and divorced bricklayer Mr Thurgood, 47, lived in adjoining Hampshire villages close to the West Sussex border. Their affair was common knowledge locally.

On the day of the murders, Mr Thurgood hired a silver Mazda and drove to the Old Thorns Golf Club, Liphook, where Mrs Benstead worked as a cleaner. They they drove to the track north of Midhurst. A few hours later a salesman who stopped for a rest discovered Mr Thurgood slumped by the side of the car with gunshot wounds to his head and chest.

Police think Mrs Benstead made a desperate attempt to escape as the killer reloaded the double-barrelled shotgun. She managed to run only a few yards before being shot in the head. Mrs Benstead's husband was questioned about the killings but he was able to establish a clear alibi.

Bobby Jones

A knife was plunged into the neck of this drugs dealer, whose body was discovered on a grassy bank at the edge of Alexandra Park, Hastings, in 1996.

An inquest in August of that year heard how the victim had told friends he was going to the park to meet some friends who would sell him some drugs the night before his body was found.

In February, 1997, four men were arrested following raids on addresses in Crawley and Hastings, and in West Malling, Kent. Armed officers arrested two of the men at the Kent address.

All four were later released without charge and the case remains unsolved. More than 100 mourners packed Hastings Crematorium for the funeral service for Mr Jones, 27, of Rock Lane, Ore.

Floral tributes, including one in the shape of a football, piled up as family and friends paid their respects. Det Supt Kit Bentham said at the time: "We made several arrests, but there is insufficient evidence to charge anyone."

Richard Watson

This is another case police intend making only a cursory re-examination, because of insufficient forensic evidence.

Mr Watson, 55, was gunned down in December, 1996, in the garden of the family home in Holtye Road, East Grinstead. The father-of-four was shot in the chest as he left his blue TVR Chimera sports car outside his semi-detached home.

The businessman's third wife Linda, a former page 3 girl, and her 25-year-old daughter Amanda London-Williams, were charged with the killing. They were later found not guilty after the Crown Prosecution Service offered no evidence at the Old Bailey.

An inquest into his Mr Watson's death was adjourned last April as police continued their inquiries into a mystery gunman believed to have carried out the shooting. So far none has been found.

At the same hearing Mrs Watson, 43, and then living in Scotland, clashed with police about the way the case was being dealt with and said details should be examined in public.

Jessie Earl

The skeletal remains of the 22-year-old Eastbourne art student were found in thick undergrowth near Beachy Head in 1989, nine years after she disappeared.

Her parents and police are convinced she was murdered, even though a coroner recorded an open verdict. There were no outward signs of violence on the body, but the only piece of clothing found, a bra, was tied in a knot, suggesting she had been bound.

A forensic archaeologist is to examine the soil where her body was discovered to look for clues. Officers hope her remains, which were donated to a hospital and have been kept, will reveal DNA evidence which can now be screened.

Jessie's mother, Valerie, told the Argus last month: "Someone out there must know something."

Police suspect her murder may be linked to other, similar killings, around the country and they are liaising with other forces.

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