Book Review: Babes in the Wood by Graham Bartlett

Rating: 5 out of 5.
Babes in the Wood: Two girls murdered. A guilty man walks free. Can the police get justice?Babes in the Wood: Two girls murdered. A guilty man walks free. Can the police get justice? by Graham Bartlett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What I like most about this book is that it is written by a retired police officer who lived through the entire period from before the horrific murders up until the eventual conviction of Bishop, yet was, as he put it, on the periphery. He has a deep understanding of the facts and knows, and had access to, all the people who were ever involved, so that makes him an authority. This makes the account even better than an account by somebody who was deeply involved.

Graham Bartlett was well-supported in the creation of this account by many people, not least prolific crime fiction writer, Peter James, who Graham has supported in the writing of his own novels with correct police procedural consultancy.

When the horrific murders of two nine-year-olds, Nicola Fellows and Karen Hadaway, occurred in Brighton in October 1986, Graham was a police constable stationed at London Gatwick airport. By the time the perpetrator of these evil crimes was finally brought to justice, thirty-two years later, he had risen through the ranks of West Sussex police to the top level.

This is a very detailed account from the day of the murders to the eventual conviction and sentencing of local man, Russell Bishop.

The strongest thread that I picked up on throughout the book is that the procedures and technology in those days were almost prehistoric compared to today and that the author, and everybody associated with the case in any way, feel that there could have been very different outcomes if ‘back then’ could be ‘these days.’

Quote: Had the science and technology we all now take for granted been available, then things might have been very different.

The author is not shy in relating the strengths and weaknesses, and even the failings, of the investigations over the years. Things were missed that would not have been overlooked today. Those missing links could have brought Bishop to justice within days rather than decades.

The frustrations of police and family members are also brought to the fore. One which often frustrates and angers me, is that the lawyers involved in serious cases often treat them as a game between prosecution and defence. Even though the defence team know full well that their defendant is guilty, they will try their best to find a weakness in the prosecution case to get their man or woman off the hook. The rules of their game are clear. It is the job of the prosecution to prove, beyond all reasonable doubt, that the person in the dock is guilty of the crimes, as charged. The defence team merely have to introduce enough doubt into the minds of the jurors to sway them to a not guilty verdict.

Quote from the second trial: The judge had had enough and reminded the experienced barristers, ‘This is a very serious trial. It is very nice to have games between the two of you, but don’t.’

The police, who have worked so hard and diligently to bring a criminal to trial are always nervous about the unpredictability of the jury, who, to be fair, are no experts.

The author has obviously learned from other authors, not least Peter James, that it is a good tactic to conclude a chapter with a “don’t turn off the light” moment. What I mean is that many bedtime readers say to themselves that they will get to the end of the chapter, turn off the light, roll over and go to sleep. If the author can finish on a sentence that compels that reader to turn the page to the next chapter, they have scored a victory. Graham comes up with two superb examples.

The first real drama came on day five.

It was all about to come crashing down.


I often skim through the acknowledgements at the end of a book, but I read every word of them at the end of this one. They were all obviously well-deserved. One hero of the whole piece, whom I had already identified as a person who deserved massive credit for locking Bishop away, is Jeff Riley. From the moment he was involved, his was diligent and on top of every minute detail, eliminating the risk of anything that could go wrong before it even had the chance to go slightly wrong.

In Graham’s words:

Special thanks and a huge well-done goes to Detective Superintendent Jeff Riley who not only led the successful investigation, but was a huge support in fact-checking and guiding us on what was appropriate for the public domain.

It is very rare that I award five stars to a book but this one really does deserve top rating.

It is exceptional!

View all my reviews

About Lance Greenfield

Blog: lancegreenfield.wordpress.com email: lancegmitchell@outlook.com I published my debut novel in December 2014: Eleven Miles. My second novel went live in February 2016: Knitting Can Walk!
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