Babes in the Wood killer Russell Bishop – who murdered two schoolgirls in the 1980s – has died in hospital, the Prison Service said.
The 55-year-old was jailed for a minimum of 36 years in 2018 after being found guilty of killing nine-year-olds Nicola Fellows and Karen Hadaway.
Bishop was 20 years old when he sexually assaulted and strangled the girls in a woodland den in Brighton, East Sussex, in October 1986.
He was cleared of their murders on December 10 1987 but within three years went on to kidnap, molest and throttle a seven-year-old girl, leaving her for dead at Devils Dyke.
While serving life for attempted murder, Bishop was ordered to face a fresh trial under the double jeopardy law, in light of a DNA breakthrough.
A Prison Service spokesman said: “HMP Frankland prisoner Russell Bishop died in hospital on January 20. The Prisons and Probation Ombudsman has been informed.”
It is understood he had cancer.
Nicola’s cousin Lorna Heffron said the news had not yet sunk in and while it was something the families “knew was coming”, it had still been “quite a shock to the system”.
Speaking to the PA news agency, she said: “We’re pleased that he’s gone and he absolutely won’t be able to hurt anybody else in the future. The world is a better place without him.
“I think the biggest relief is the fact that we got justice for Nicola and Karen before this happened.
“It’s the satisfaction of knowing that we don’t have to worry now that he, at any point in the future, might be able to apply for parole.”
She said the families “always knew” he had murdered the two girls and they wish he had not been initially acquitted, leaving him free to attack again, but they hope his death brings closure to his surviving victim.
Bishop’s conviction brought to an end a long fight for justice for the two victims’ families.
A Pinto sweatshirt discarded on Bishop’s route home was linked to the defendant by DNA, while fibre, paint and ivy transfers placed it at the scene.
Tests on a sample from Karen’s left forearm also revealed a “one in a billion” DNA match to Bishop.
Bishop responded by trying to cast suspicion on Nicola’s devastated father Barrie.
He tailored his evidence to counter the new forensic evidence, claiming to have touched the bodies to feel for a pulse after they were found by two 18-year-olds.
But jurors saw through the web of lies and convicted Bishop on the “overwhelming” evidence on the 31st anniversary of his acquittal.
Bishop refused to attend court for his sentencing at the Old Bailey.
In rare scenes, jurors embraced family members outside court after the hearing.
Sentencing Bishop, Mr Justice Sweeney said: “I have no doubt that you were a predatory paedophile.
“The terror that each girl must have suffered in their final moments is unimaginable.”
At the time Karen’s mother Michelle Hadaway branded Bishop an “evil monster”.
While Sue Eismann, Nicola’s mother, said he was a “horrible, wicked man.”
Barrie Fellows said the loss of Nicola destroyed his relationship with his wife, saying it “tore us apart”.
Their son Jonathan, who died just weeks before the second trial, was “riddled with guilt” that he was not able to look after her as a big brother should, he added.
In May last year, Bishop’s ex-girlfriend was jailed for six years after telling “wicked lies” at his original trial. Described as an “accomplished liar”, Jennie Johnson was found guilty of committing perjury.
The judge said her lying under oath led Bishop to be initially acquitted.
Peter Kyle, the Labour MP for Hove, described Bishop as a “hateful man” whose “murders and deceit caused endless pain to so many people”.
In a post on Twitter, he added: “I hope his death behind bars starts a new chapter for his victims’ families. They deserve it. These events have scarred Brighton and Hove forever.”