Twenty three years ago Nikki Allan, a seven-year-old girl, was murdered on Wear Garth estate in Sunderland. It was a crime of extreme brutality. Nikki’s body was found in a derelict building – she had been battered over the head and stabbed 37 times.
No-one has ever been convicted of the evil murder of Nikki and the family still seek justice
The self confessed but alleged killer George Heron, then 24, lived on the same estate, having moved in only weeks earlier with his sister. At first Heron denied knowing Nikki, but he admitted he did after witnesses came forward to say they had seen him with her on several occasions.
George Heron pictured back in the late 80′s
There was other evidence. The blade of a knife recovered from his lodgings matched the stab wounds. Blood splatters were found on Heron’s shoe and other clothing. His sister told police that on returning home on the night of Nikki’s murder, Heron had gone straight to the bathroom where, uncharacteristically, he spent “a good half hour” washing both himself and his clothes. Although Heron had at first denied going out that evening, four separate witnesses saw a man at the Boar’s Head and Clarendon public houses fitting his description. The man was seen buying cheese-and-onion crisps – Nikki’s favourite – which police believed the killer used to lure Nikki into the building where she died.
After three days of police questioning, Heron confessed to killing Nikki. He had previously denied it 120 times. The bulk of the evidence against him was circumstantial, but police and prosecutors maintained that several of the details in Heron’s confession were corroborated by evidence gathered during the course of the inquiry. Police were confident of a conviction.
The trial opened in Leeds in October 1993. Community hatred towards Heron ran at fever pitch, making it difficult to guarantee a fair trial in Sunderland. The distance was no deterrent. Scores of local people, including Nikki’s entire extended family, travelled daily to fill the public gallery and often had to be restrained from leaping into the dock to attack the defendant.
The judge in the case immediately identified a problem with the taped confessions. After two weeks of legal argument, he ruled that seven of the 12 interview tapes – thought by the Crown Prosecution Service to be crucial in proving the case – were inadmissible because officers had used “oppressive methods” to obtain the confession. After a six-week trial, the judge directed the jury to deliver a verdict of not guilty. Fighting broke out in the courtroom, Sharon passed out and several jury members were sobbing.
Heron was given a change of identity and moved out of Sunderland. Soon after the trial, his solicitor’s office was firebombed. While Heron was in prison on remand, he was slashed across the face by an inmate and left badly scarred. Sharon was secretly invited into the prison to meet the inmate so she could thank him. “I was even sent letters from some of the jurors,” says Sharon, “saying they would be haunted by Nikki’s murder for the rest of their lives.”
A house-to-house inquiry resulted in the eventual arrest of a neighbour, George Heron.
Heron was found not guilty.
Seventeen years ago Sharon sued George Heron in the civil courts for battery of a child resulting in her death.
The proof of evidence is lesser in the civil courts. Heron did not contest the case and Sharon won.
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Mum wants justice for murdered Sunderland schoolgirl
THE mum of murdered schoolgirl Nikki Allan is hopeful the Stephen Lawrence convictions could lead to finding her daughter’s killer.
Sharon Henderson, 44, campaigned tirelessly to see the ancient double-jeopardy law, which prevents suspects from being tried twice for the same offence, overturned.
Thanks to a shake-up to the law in 2005, Stephen Lawrence’s killer Gary Dobson, now 36, has been put behind bars for the murder, despite being acquitted in 1994.
Sharon, of Ryhope, said: “I’m really pleased that this case is sorted, especially for the family and for Stephen.
“He can now rest in peace and his family can live with some sort of peace so I’m glad I fought for the law to be changed.”
Seven-year-old Nikki’s body was found in the then disused Exchange Building in High Street East, close to her home at Wear Garth, in October 1992.
She had been beaten around the head and stabbed in the chest.
Jobless neighbour George Heron was charged with her murder after confessing to detectives.
But the confession never made it to trial after judge Mr Justice Mitchell ruled it had been obtained under oppressive questioning.
Heron was cleared of all charges in November 1993, but was later ordered to pay damages to the family.
Sharon spent years lobbying the Government, sending letters arguing her case for the law to be changed to then Prime Minster Tony Blair, Home Secretary David Blunkett and various MPs and organisations.
She also received support from former senior Durham police officer Lord Brian Mackenzie of Framwellgate, who led the fight for change.
In a letter to her, he told her to continue her “fight for justice” and invited her to London to discuss the matter further.
Sharon said: “I’m glad we fought to have this law changed because it shows it can help find justice.
“It has found justice for a few families and now I want justice for mine.”
Last week, Dobson was jailed for a minimum of 15 years and two months, and accomplice David Norris, 35, for 14 years and three months, for the part they played in murdering the schoolboy.
Stephen was just 18 when he was killed in a racist attack in Eltham, South East London.
SHARON is gearing up to take her fight to the top.
The mum launched a Facebook page – Justice for Nikki Allan – in September as a way to get people to back her campaign.
The grieving mum wants the case into her daughter’s case to be reopened and has pledged to take her fight to the Home Secretary and Association of Chief Police Officers.
Already, more than 2,500 people have liked the page and Sharon said she has received support from across the globe.
She said: “I can’t believe the amount of support I’ve got from people. They’ve been sending me letters and messages non-stop.”