Jennifer Johnson, ex-girlfriend of Babes in the Wood killer Russell Bishop, has been jailed for six years more than three decades after telling “wicked lies” at his trial.
The 55-year-old said she had acted under duress from the violent Bishop at the time, but a jury found her guilty of perjury and perverting the course of justice at a hearing earlier this week.
She declined to appear in person for sentencing on Wednesday, which went ahead in her absence in the same courtroom where Bishop’s infamous first trial took place.
Looking down on the empty dock, Mr Justice Sir Peter Fraser called Johnson an “accomplished liar” as he jailed her.
In one of the longest miscarriages of justice in the UK, Bishop was acquitted of the murders of schoolgirls Karen Hadaway and Nicola Fellows in 1987 after Johnson lied on oath to protect him.
Michelle Hadaway, mother of Karen, told Lewes Crown Court that Johnson’s lies in 1987 “left me completely numb to the core”.
She added: “I knew from that moment onwards that there was a good chance that this evil man could be acquitted.
“The pain I have had to endure over the loss of my beautiful daughter Karen over the last 30 years has been unbearable.”
She said her life had been dominated by “a sense of terrible injustice”.
“There has never been a moment when that sense of injustice has ever left and I fought with everything I possibly could.”
Earlier this week, she said Johnson’s “wicked lies” had “very serious consequences”.
Sentencing Johnson, Mr Justice Fraser said her crimes “strike at the heart of the administration of justice”.
He added: “The effect of your dishonesty endured for over three decades.
“Your refusal to attend today is an example of your refusal to accept what you have done.”
The judge told Johnson she was part of a “concerted attempt” to secure Bishop’s acquittal and that her perjury “led to” the not-guilty verdicts in 1987.
He recognised that she had suffered with mental health issues but said he did not accept she was in a “controlling and coercive relationship” with Bishop prior to her offences.
The judge ended his remarks by saying that he hoped this was the “last chapter” in the “prolonged tragedy” that began with the deaths of Karen and Nicola in October 1986.
Chris Henley QC, for the defence, spoke of the “real punishment” Johnson has suffered over the last three decades.
He told the court: “She was a vulnerable young mother in 1987, the mother of two very young children living a very socially isolated life and in a relationship with a violent, abusive and coercive man.”
Mr Henley also criticised the idea that the 1987 trial resulted in not guilty verdicts directly because of the evidence she gave about the blue Pinto sweatshirt.
“Of course the evidence in relation to the top was material but it should not for one moment be considered decisive to the outcome of the trial.
“It is wrong and it isn’t fair to hold Jennifer Johnson responsible for that.”
He argued that it was Johnson’s “compelling and corroborated evidence” that in the end resulted in Bishop’s conviction all those years later.
“The law required her to be stronger but in our submission a merciful and humane analysis of what happened will understand the reality of her position.”
Nine-year-olds Karen and Nicola were found sexually assaulted and strangled in a woodland den in Brighton in October 1986.
It took more than 30 years and a change in the law, fought for by the girls’ families, before Bishop was finally convicted at a retrial in 2018.
The devastating impact of the original not-guilty verdicts was made clear in 1990, when Bishop kidnapped and sexually assaulted another young girl, leaving her for dead.
During her trial, Johnson told the jury she “had no choice” but to lie.
She confessed to lying about a crucial piece of evidence, a blue Pinto sweatshirt found near the scene.
Johnson had originally told police officers the sweatshirt belonged to Bishop, the court heard.
But she later asked police if she could change her story and told the court that Bishop had warned her to do so.
She said: “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.”
It took jurors more than 12 hours to reach their majority decisions of guilty on both charges of perjury and perverting the course of justice.
Johnson closed her eyes in court on Monday as the jury foreman delivered the verdicts, while the victims’ families wiped away tears.