The former girlfriend of notorious Babes in the Wood murderer, Russell Bishop, is facing jail after she was found guilty of repeatedly lying to help the double killer walk free 34 years ago.
Jennifer Johnson, 55, had been a key prosecution witness when Bishop was accused of sexually assaulting and strangling nine-year-old schoolgirls, Karen Hadaway and Nicola Fellows in a park in Brighton.
She had told police that a distinctive sweatshirt found near the murder scene belonged to Bishop, who was her boyfriend at the time.
But she sensationally changed her story during the trial, telling jurors she had never seen the sweatshirt before and insisting it did not belong to Russell.
The judge directed the jury to acquit Bishop if they were unsure the sweatshirt belonged to him and he was subsequently cleared of both murders.
Three years later however, Bishop struck again, abducting, molesting and then attempting to murder a seven-year-old girl.
It was not until 2018 that a breakthrough in DNA evidence saw Bishop convicted of the killings of the Karen and Nicola, and jailed for life with a minimum term of 36 years.
As a result of the second trial Johnson, the mother of Bishop’s three children, was arrested in 2020 and charged with perjury and perverting the course of justice.
Watch: Michelle Hadaway - I'll never forgive Russell Bishop
Johnson claimed that she had acted under duress and "had no choice" but to lie during the trial more than 30 years ago.
But she was convicted by a jury on one count of perjury and one count of perverting the course of justice on Monday.
Johnson remained impassive as she was convicted at Lewes Crown Court - the very same court where her former boyfriend walked free in 1987.
The jury of five women and seven men took more than 12 hours to reach their verdicts of guilty on both counts.
Johnson closed her eyes as the jury foreman delivered the verdicts. The victims’ families wiped away tears of relief.
Johnson told the court Bishop had been raped, beaten and abused her throughout their relationship.
She told the court that while Bishop was on remand awaiting trial for the double murder he had repeatedly threatened to kill her unless she changed her statement to police.
Johnson said she also came under severe pressure from Bishop’s mother, Sylvia, a well-known dog breeder, and other family members who ordered her to change her statement.
She said: “I lied because I didn’t have a choice. I’m sorry. I was told to change my statement. I had to say it wasn’t his jumper. I wanted to say in court that it was his jumper but I couldn’t.
“Every time I went to see Bishop in prison he warned me to change my statement. He warned me he would always find me and kill me. Every time I went to visit he said it.”
However the jury was told the defence of duress is only applicable if the defendant felt they were going to be killed or very seriously injured “almost immediately”.
Johnson admitted she had repeatedly lied on oath but said she was not the criminal, adding: “I didn’t murder anyone”.
Libby Clark, Senior Crown Prosecutor, said: “Jennifer Johnson’s deception caused decades of distress to the families of Nicola Fellows and Karen Hadaway. It took a change in the law and more than 30 years for him to finally be convicted of their murders.
“She knew exactly how important her evidence was to the justice process, but still chose to put Bishop and herself first by lying at his original trial. Johnson claimed she had been acting under duress but this was just another lie.
"Her actions were clearly those of someone who wanted their partner acquitted of murder, rather than a person living in fear.
“Our thoughts are with the families of Karen and Nicola, who have had to wait far too long for justice as a result of the failure of Bishop and Johnson to accept responsibility for their crimes.”
Michelle Johnson, the mother of Karen Hadaway, said: “Jennifer Johnson lied on oath at the very court where she had just been convicted of perjury and perverting the course of justice. Her wicked lies about a crucial piece of evidence subsequently helped her boyfriend, the murdering, psychopathic paedophile escape justice for the double murder of two innocent little girls, my beautiful Karen and her friend, Nicky.”
She added: “Not only had we lost our daughter but the evil monster who had done it walked free. The evil lies this woman told had very serious consequences because three years later, on the anniversary of Karen and Nicola's funeral that evil man struck again. This time it was a seven year old little girl who was attacked.”
Lorna Heffron, Nicola’s cousin, branded Bishop “an evilil paedophile” whose actions had “devastated and destroyed” two families.
She said he was only freed due to a huge miscarriage of justice in which Johnson played a key part.
Miss Heffron said: "She helped blur the lines. She blatantly perverted the course of justice for Nicky and Karen.
"She had plenty of opportunity to tell the truth back then and in past three decades. She lied at every opportunity."
She said her demeanour at the 1987 was “smug and self-assured”.
"She must pay her price in the part she played in the miscarriage of justice. Her devious lies have impacted on us all. The past has caught up with someone who hid in plain sight believing she was untouchable.”
Johnson will be sentenced on Wednesday.
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