Family of murdered Eastbourne student ‘victim of miscarriage of justice’, inquest finds Brighton News

THE FAMILY of a murdered student is the victim of a “substantial miscarriage of justice”, an inquest has learned.

The body of Eastbourne student Jessie Earl was discovered in dense undergrowth near Beachy Head in 1989 – nine years after she disappeared from her studio in Upperton Gardens.

Senior Sussex Police officers initially told the family that her disappearance was not suspicious.

But in 2001, police launched a cold case review which concluded the 22-year-old art student had been murdered.

A second inquest into Ms Earl’s death, which began at Eastbourne Town Hall on Tuesday, heard she was ‘probably’ tied to a tree and ‘possibly’ sexually assaulted before her alleged murder.

The inquest heard that Sussex Police repeatedly failed to submit relevant documents to High Court proceedings and Ms Earl’s family.

Stephen Kamlish QC, representing parents John and Valerie Earl, said: ‘Sussex Police failed at every step until recently to provide the Earls with key documents in the criminal investigation.

Mr Kamlish asked retired Superintendent Emma Heater, who was the lead investigator in the case, why Earls’ Freedom of Information (FOI) requests for the report had been denied.

She replied that the access to information exemptions would have applied in this case as an “ongoing investigation”.

Mr Kamlish said: ‘The earls already had the Silk report and all they wanted was to know they had the right report.’

He added that “no method of investigation” was listed in the report, adding: “The JTF agent gave a false legal reason not to respond.”

George Thomas, representing the police, said Ms Heater could not answer the question in an official capacity as she was not a member of the FOI team.

East Sussex Deputy Coroner James Healy-Pratt said: ‘The family have been the victims of a serious miscarriage of justice. It is a problem.

“I think it still has to be recorded that the family had to fight to get certain documents.

“The family was not informed in due time.”

Mr Kamlish asked Ms Heater why the police did not disclose the 2009 review of Operation Silk to the High Court.

She said: ‘We divulged what we were asked to do. There’s no hiding or anything like that.

Pressed on the question, she added: “It didn’t mean anything” and “I wouldn’t say it was a conscious decision”.

Mr Kamlish questioned why a ‘problematic’ report written by an officer in 1980, which concluded suicide was most likely, had not been disclosed for proceedings in the High Court.

The QC added that this conclusion meant that at the time “the police will not be looking for a murderer, and if there is a murderer who kills young women in the area, it would allow the murderer to continue to kill women “.

Ms Heater said she ‘inadvertently’ did not release it, adding: ‘I agree that these documents are important.

In his closing remarks, Mr Thomas told the court that Sussex Police ‘never sought to defend the inadequacy of the initial investigations’.

He suggested the coroner consider Ms Earl’s death an unlawful killing, but not attribute it to murder.

Mr Kamlish, who asked the coroner to declare Ms Earl’s death unlawful with the category of murder, said: ‘I am not here to suggest a deliberate cover-up by the squad.

But he added that “a lot more support could have been given” to the family.

“The last 30 years of their lives have been about how they were able to turn things around after they were told they couldn’t,” he added.

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This notice was published: 2022-05-11 19:20:56

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