Judith Roberts – Tamworth – 1972

A 14-year-old girl called Judith Roberts was battered to death not far from her family home in Tamworth. A young soldier stationed at Whittington Barracks confessed to the murder and served 25 years in jail. However, he later claimed that his confession was a result of psychological problems he was experiencing at the time; there being no other evidence against him, his conviction was overturned by the Court of Appeal. The real killer remains unknown

Indepth look into this cold case

The murder scene at Wigginton Lane, Tamworth

The discovery of pretty Judith Roberts’ battered body led to an intensive murder hunt. But, almost 40 years on, her killer has never been caught. However, the case did lead to one of Britain’s longest miscarriages of justice. Crime Correspondent Mark Cowan examines the case.

IT WAS June 7, 1972, Derby Day, when the Staffordshire town of Tamworth was rocked by the gruesome reality that a murderer had struck.

The discovery of pretty Judith Roberts’ battered body under a pile of hedge clippings and plastic fertiliser bags in a field spelled the beginning of one of the most intensive murder hunts in the Midlands for years.

The clever 14-year-old, grammar schoolgirl had left her home in Wiggington to ride her green bicycle along Comberford Lane, Tamworth.

Instead of a pleasant ride out, she met her killer. She was dragged from her cycle, battered to death and her body partly covered by sacking and half-hidden by a hedge.

A police hunt began. At the height of the inquiry, more than 200 detectives were looking for the murderer of the shy teenager.

They took more than 15,400 sets of fingerprints and more than 11,000 statements.

Nearly 11,000 house-to-house inquiries were made and road checks were set up.

A total of 4,200 separate pieces of information were acted on.

But it wasn’t until four months later that detectives had what they thought was a crucial breakthrough when boy soldier Andrew Evans, a depressed asthmatic Army recruit, confessed to her killing.

His health at the time was so poor he had just been discharged from Whittington Barracks, near Lichfield.

Shaking and stuttering, he contacted detectives at Longton police station in Stoke after being disturbed by a dream in which he believed he saw the face of the murdered girl and said he wanted to see a photograph of her.

He told police: “I keep seeing a face. I want to see a picture of her. I wonder if I’ve done it.”

When he was asked if he had ever been to Tamworth, he replied: “I don’t know. I don’t know. I could have been. I forget where I have been.”

And asked if he had murdered the girl, he told detectives: “This is it.

“I don’t know.

“Show me a picture and I’ll tell you if I’ve seen it.”

Investigating officers initially believed the teenager, who was taking prescribed drugs for depression, was a fantasist and viewed his confessions, which increased in certainty as he was interviewed, as not credible.

Eventually, after three days of interviews conducted without his parents, a solicitor or a doctor present, Andrew Evans confessed to the murder.

Coupled with inconsistencies in his original statement – he claimed to have spent the night of the killing in his barracks with three other soldiers but police later discovered that two of the soldiers had left the barracks by then and a third could not be traced – police thought they had their man.

By the time of the trial at Birmingham Crown Court in June 1973, Andrew believed that he was innocent.

But he could not support his alibi that he had been in the barracks all day

During the hearing he was injected with a truth drug which, medical experts said at his later appeal in 1997, could have created false memories.

The jury at Birmingham Crown Court accepted the confession and he was jailed for life – a sentence changed soon after to being detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure.

For almost 20 years he accepted his fate. It was not until 1991 that he began to assert his innocence.

Andrew had, in fact, been on the point of being released in the early 1990s when he was transferred to Sudbury Open Prison and had even been on home visits.

But he couldn’t admit to himself that he was guilty of the killing.

In an interview with the Birmingham Mail a year before his conviction was quashed, he said: “I went to see the governor I and told him I was not guilty.

“They immediately sent me back to a closed prison and banged me up again, 150 miles away from home.

“It was like being convicted all over again, but they said I couldn’t be released until I admitted the killing.

“All I know was that I had had these dreams about a girl’s face and that’s what I told the police at the time. The statements I made and the pictures I drew were at a time when I was under physical and emotional stress.

“But I was only 17-years-old and I didn’t fully understand what was going on.”

In 1994 the campaigning organisation Justice took up his cause. He was eventually freed by the Court of Appeal three years later. Lord Chief Justice, Lord Bingham, declared his conviction “unsafe and unsatisfactory” based on new psychiatric evidence.

Evans could not remember what happened on the day of the murder and assumed he had killed the girl “out of his own sense of worthlessness and self-hatred”, the court was told.

Nevertheless, Evans’ confessions were full of claims about the attack and the body that did not fit the evidence and which the real murderer would have known to be untrue. After his release, Andrew said he was no longer bitter, even though he had become the longest-serving miscarriage-of-justice prisoner.

In an interview following his release, he said: “Prison still gives me nightmares and will affect me for the rest of my life. They have taken 25 years of my life, but I am resigned to that and I have to move on and enjoy the rest of my life.

“After all I have gone through, I still think that one innocent family has not had justice. If I had not been convicted then the police may have got the right person who killed Judith. That always sticks in my mind and I hope one day the case will be reopened and this person brought to trial.”

Following the Court of Appeal ruling, Staffordshire Police defended the officers who handled the murder inquiry.

“We accept absolutely the decision of the Appeal Court to allow the appeal of Andrew Evans,” the force said in a statement in 1997.

“At the time of the investigation 25 years ago all lines of inquiry were followed.

“For that reason it is not intended to reopen this case. However, should any new evidence come to light then it will be considered very carefully.”

The statement said that officers in the inquiry acted according to procedures in place at that time.

“There was never any question of misconduct by any of those officers,” the statement added.