Ex-girlfriend tells court she was ‘threatened’ by Babes in the Wood killer

Ted Hennessey, PA
·4-min read

The ex-girlfriend of Babes in the Wood killer Russell Bishop has claimed she was “threatened” by him to lie to the police, a court has heard.

Jennifer Johnson, now 55, has denied perjury and perverting the course of justice in relation to Bishop’s trial in 1987.

Johnson claimed she was acting under duress while giving evidence at the trial more than 30 years ago.

Jennifer Johnson court case
Jennifer Johnson (right) the ex-girlfriend of Babes in the Wood murderer Russell Bishop, is bundled into Lewes Crown Court (Gareth Fuller/PA)

On Thursday afternoon, Johnson told Lewes Crown Court that Bishop repeatedly warned he would “come after” her if she did not change the original statement she gave to the police.

She tearfully told the court she “had no choice” but to lie.

Bishop was first tried for the brutal murders of schoolgirls Karen Hadaway and Nicola Fellows in 1987, but was acquitted.

The nine-year-olds were found sexually assaulted and strangled in a woodland den in Brighton in October 1986.

Within three years of the acquittal, Bishop went on to kidnap and sexually assault another young girl, leaving her for dead.

He was later found guilty of attempted murder and sexual assault and jailed for life.

Russell Bishop court case
Brighton schoolgirls Karen Hadaway (left) and Nicola Fellows (PA)

It would be more than 30 years after the deaths of Karen and Nicola before he was convicted and jailed for their murders in 2018.

On Thursday, Johnson confessed to lying about a crucial piece of evidence – a blue Pinto sweatshirt found near the scene.

She had originally told police officers that the sweatshirt belonged to Bishop, the court heard.

But Johnson later asked the police if she could change her story and told the court that Bishop had warned her to do so.

Chris Henley, QC, for the defence, asked Johnson how she felt about his threats.

She said: “I was upset, angry and annoyed because I knew what the consequences would be.

“I never got on the wrong side of his family because they were well known in the area for being violent.”

Johnson told the jury she felt “intimidated and frightened” by his family.

She continued: “He threatened that if I didn’t change the statement he would come after me.

“He told me that every day until it was stuck in my head, and every day I told him, ‘I can’t’.

“I didn’t have anybody, it was just me and my children.”

Johnson added: “I was young, naive and scared.”

Russell Bishop court case
The blue jumper (Sussex Police)

Asked if she would like to declare anything to the court, Johnson responded: “I had no choice but to lie, I’m sorry, I put my hands up but I had no choice.”

She went on to say: “I feel sorry for the families, I wouldn’t know what it’s like to lose a child and I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes.

“But I’m sorry, I didn’t do the crime, but I’m in this court being treated like a criminal, I didn’t murder anyone.”

Johnson said she would “rather be dead” than listen to the evidence in court again.

She added: “I’ve had to live with this all my life, nobody will know what I’ve been through.”

Mr Henley told the court that Bishop had been abusive towards her.

Johnson refused to say Bishop’s name as she detailed the abuse.

She said: “He forced me to do things I didn’t want to, strangle me, hit me and I couldn’t get help, I was stuck.

“I used to phone the police but they would do nothing, they’d say it was a domestic issue.”

Johnson told the court she stayed in a relationship with Bishop because there was “nowhere else to go”.

She went on to say her four children have been bullied as as result of Bishop’s crimes.

Johnson said: “They’re my children, they’re not his, they’re mine, all four of them are my children.”

She added that her appearances in court meant losing her “dream” job working with disabled children.

The trial continues.