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An art student whose death has been linked to serial killer Peter Tobin may have been tied to a tree with her bra by a sexual predator, an inquest heard yesterday.
Jessie Earl disappeared from a bedsit in Eastbourne, East Sussex, in 1980.
The 22-year-old’s naked body was only found nine years later hidden in undergrowth at nearby Beachy Head.
Her clothing had vanished, save for her bra which had been used to bind her wrists and knotted in such a way that it could have been used as a ‘restraint, gag, weapon or ligature’, the inquest heard.
Jessie Earl, 22, disappeared near Beachy Head, East Sussex, back in 1980 without a trace
Despite potential evidence of restraint, police did not regard the death near the well-known suicide spot as a murder until a review in 2000 concluded she had been killed.
Now a new inquest has heard that the key piece of evidence had been destroyed.
Today, Miss Earl’s parents, John and Valerie, who are in their 90s, told of their anger at the flawed 1989 investigation.
And a detective who worked on the original case suggested their daughter had been tied to a tree and sexually assaulted.
The bra was destroyed by Sussex Police as per their routine ‘disposal policy’, to the fury of her family who had hoped DNA testing could link the clothing to Tobin, 75.
Retired Sussex Police detective sergeant Anne Capon claimed potentially vital evidence into the suspected murder of Jessie Earl, 22, was ‘destroyed’ by police. Pictured outside Eastbourne Town Hall today
He was said to be living nearby in Brighton at the time of her disappearance. The killer is serving a whole life sentence in Edinburgh for the murders of three other women.
Miss Earl had described meeting a middle-aged Scottish man at Beachy Head to her mother shortly before her disappearance.
Today, retired Sussex detective sergeant Anne Capon told the inquest at Eastbourne Town Hall: ‘We had a view that she had been restrained in some way by her bra, and because it was found near a tree.’
But it was impossible to verify whether a sex assault took place due to the time gap before she was found.
Ms Capon told the coroner she believed Ms Earl had ‘probably’ been tied to a tree, perhaps using her bra, and said there was ‘possibly’ a sexual element involved.
Ms Capon said Ms Earl’s bones were ‘scattered’ but a ‘number of bones were closer to the tree’ and the bra, the only item of clothing recovered, was ‘found very close to the base of the tree’.
Ms Capon, who has been involved with the case in its various stages over the decades, said this bra was ‘disposed of’ by police.
Miss Capon added: ‘It had always been my opinion Jessie had been murdered.’
After the investigation into Ms Earl’s death was reopened in 2000, Ms Capon said she learned that some evidence, such as the bra, had been ‘destroyed some time previously’
Tobin was living nearby in Brighton when Jessie disappeared and she had described meeting a middle-aged Scottish man at Beachy Head to her mother
The appalling crimes of serial killer Peter Tobin
Tobin is currently serving three life sentences for the murders of Angelika Kluk, Vicky Hamilton and Dinah McNicol.
In 2008, the 75-year-old was caged for the murder of Vicky Hamilton, 15, after she disappeared in Bathgate in 1991.
Her body was found next to that of 18-year-old Dinah McNicol, of Tillingham in Essex, who also disappeared in 1991.
In 2017, both bodies were discovered in the garden of a house in Margate, Kent, that Tobin moved to from Bathgate.
Tobin also raped and murdered Polish student Angelika Kluk, 23, whose body was found under the floorboards of a church in Anderston, Glasgow.
She was involved in the initial 1981 investigation and was seconded to the inquiry after Miss Earl’s body was found in 1989. She also worked on a 2000 investigation, Operation Silk, that ultimately concluded Ms Earl had been murdered.
She said this was due to the ‘circumstances’, such as ‘the way the bra was tied’ and ‘the fact that she was in such dense undergrowth’.
She said she ‘just couldn’t see how Jessie could have got into dense bushes like that, and there were various other things that made me think she had been murdered’, such as the fact it was ‘off her normal walking route’.
After the investigation into Ms Earl’s death was reopened in 2000, Ms Capon said she learned that some evidence, such as the bra, had been ‘destroyed some time previously’.
She told the inquest that this was like part of Sussex Police’s ‘disposal policy’ where items are ‘disposed of after a certain period of time’.
She said: ‘I think it was one of those cases where, because it wasn’t regarded as a murder in 1989, I don’t think anybody made a point of stressing that these exhibits must be retained for ever more.’
Ms Capon said ‘terrific advances’ in forensic testing since the body was found means there is ‘every chance’ police could have found DNA evidence on the bra, which she believes the suspected killer would have touched.
She later added: ‘At the very least a note should have been left, a very prominent note, with those exhibits, saying these should never be disposed of.’
A second inquest into Jessie’s death, which had been ordered by the High Court in December, opened today at Eastbourne Town Hall, East Sussex. Pictured, Jessie’s parents John and Val
She said the ‘majority’ of people working on the inquiry shared her view that Ms Earl was likely to have been murdered.
But she claimed the senior investigating officer ‘insisted’ they did not air such views, the inquest heard.
She added: ‘He made a policy decision it wasn’t going to be crimed as a murder.
‘I can recall some time after the inquiry had started being told in no uncertain terms we were not to refer to it as a murder or not to talk about it as a murder.’
Despite Ms Capon’s testimony to the 1989 inquest, the coroner recorded an open verdict. A second probe was ordered by the High Court in December after the victim’s parents argued the original investigation as ‘woefully inadequate’.
Stephen Kamlish, QC, for the family, called for original police documents in the case to be released.
No arrests have ever been made and the case remains open. Sussex Police argued that releasing certain information from reports could tip off the killer.
The inquest continues on Wednesday.