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The BBC has said it is “extremely sorry for the distress” caused to the mother of a murdered schoolgirl who claims journalist Martin Bashir took her daughter’s clothes for DNA testing 30 years ago and never returned them.
Michelle Hadaway says Mr Bashir obtained the clothes for BBC Two’s Public Eye programme but the investigation was not broadcast and her calls to the BBC were ignored.
Karen Hadaway and her friend Nicola Fellows, who were both nine, were found sexually assaulted and strangled in a woodland den in Brighton in October 1986 in what became known as the Babes in the Wood murders.
The families of the two girls spent decades fighting for justice after their killer, Russell Bishop, was initially found not guilty in 1987.
Ms Hadaway has previously claimed that not having the clothing may have hindered her pursuing the killer in court and has called for an apology from Mr Bashir.
Following an investigation by The Mail on Sunday, the BBC said it was “appalled” that the clothing had been lost.
A spokesperson 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.
“We are appalled that this clothing was lost after being obtained as part of an investigation for a BBC programme.
“We are continuing to look into this matter following the Dyson inquiry, and as part of that, we asked a former senior BBC executive to review what happened in this case, including the 2004 investigation, and see if anything was missed which could help us locate the clothing.”
Ms Hadaway has said Mr Bashir came to her in 1991 and asked to have her daughter’s clothing DNA tested for a BBC programme, saying that science had advanced in the five years since the murders, but never returned the clothes.
Speaking to Woman’s Hour in May, she said: “Over the years I’ve been so angry with the fact that this man has never apologised to me, never contacted me, the denials have been going on for quite a long time.”
It took more than 30 years, DNA advances and a change in the law before Bishop was finally convicted at a retrial in 2018.
In response to allegations that in 2004 the BBC investigations unit did not make contact with individuals who might have known where the clothing was, the broadcaster described the claims as “incorrect”.
It added: “Records show that [Public Eye editor] Nigel Chapman and an individual who can be identified as [assistant producer] Charlie Beckett were contacted during the 2004 investigation.
“Martin Bashir was contacted via his agent, who told us that Martin was unable to assist with the whereabouts of the clothes.”
In an interview in The Sunday Times, Mr Bashir was asked about the potentially crucial piece of evidence and replied: “I may have lost it but I don’t remember.”
The Metropolitan Police recently announced that a criminal investigation will not be launched into the journalist’s incendiary interview with Diana, Princess of Wales.