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Helen Bailey's mother demands justice 43 years on from killing

Great Barr | Crime | Published:

The heartbroken mother of an eight-year-old girl found strangled and with her throat cut has called for justice more than 43 years after the killing that "blighted" her family.

Margaret Bailey wants justice for her daughter Helen, pictured right, aged 8

"Bubbly, chatty" Helen Bailey left her Birmingham home to go to find her 10-year-old brother Adrian, who had earlier gone out to play, on August 10 1975.

The family had been looking forward to a holiday in Cornwall a few days later, and Helen had been desperate to play games with her sibling and his friends after bath-time, said her mother Margaret Bailey.

But after going out searching for her brother and his pals, Helen was never seen alive again.

She was discovered the following day in woodland near her Great Barr home following a massive search by family, police and neighbours.

The pathologist in the original post-mortem, Dr Frederick Griffiths, said there was no evidence of homicide, despite finding a "shallow cut", which nicked the jugular vein.

Dr Griffiths said there appeared to be no evidence of a struggle, or any pressure marks around the girl's neck, concluding the cause of death as accident or a prank gone wrong, the family said.

That conclusion was key to the original inquest's finding in 1976, recording an open verdict into the death.

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An inquest has ruled Helen Bailey was unlawfully killed

Despite the initial inquest finding, suspicion lingered in the community where Helen was well known as "chatty" and "so lively" as to who had been responsible for the "accident".

Two entirely innocent boys, who some locals believed were linked to the death, had the finger of blame pointed at them long after publicity around the case had faded.

Mrs Bailey said: "Well I believed them at the time, that these two boys were responsible, because that's what we were told by the coroner.

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"We were told it was just an accident, but when I think about it they said it was just a little nick in the jugular vein and she could have got up and walked away - that's what he said.

"But my husband never believed that, he always thought it was murder and so did my son."

The case remained untouched until 2014, when a West Midlands Police cold case review looked again at the death, speaking to the original investigation team.

Detectives called on the services of expert Home Office pathologist Dr Nat Cary, who examined the original post-mortem photos and notes, and found typical signs of asphyxia - he concluded the death was "a clear case of homicide".

He also found her neck had been cut twice, and said the wounds - described as "shallow" by the original pathologist, were anything but.

The findings were a bombshell for the family, who - after four decades - had to be told their "wonderful little girl" had been murdered.

Now, Mrs Bailey said, the family "want justice".

Helen's family have been speaking following the end of a new inquest into the death at Birmingham Coroner's Court on Friday.

That inquest was listed after the High Court overturned the original 1976 inquest's conclusion of an open verdict, in a ruling at the end of last year.

Mrs Bailey, 86 and a retired receptionist, said the death, and the trauma had "blighted our lives".

She said it was Helen's father who found his daughter in the woodland and then had to stand with the body "for three hours" so he could identify her when the coroner arrived.

Mrs Bailey said her husband was "tormented every day" by the experience, and never got over it.

He died without seeing anyone ever brought to justice, she added.

She said neither Mr Bailey or Helen's brother Adrian, 53, ever believed the death was anything other than murder.

For Mrs Bailey, who had "beautiful" Helen snatched away after she and her husband had planned their family, she had believed what the pathologist had concluded - it was a tragic accident.

But when, six years ago, police told her it was murder she said it was "dreadful" to have discovered the truth had evaded the family for almost 44 years.

Mrs Bailey said: "The police came to see us, opened the case again and so for the last six years we've known what's happened and it's different to what we were told in the beginning, so we want the truth now."

She added: "It was dreadful. My son said he was coming down to see me, and it was such a shock and he said 'mom, it's murder'.

"I've never been the same since. Obviously I have grieved for all these years. She's never left me really.

"She's with me all the time, I'm talking about her all the time, my friends all know about her, and my family, everybody knows about it.

"It's just blighted our lives. So now it would be lovely to have closure - a bit late. But better late than never."

The family of Helen Bailey, including her brother Adrian (left) and mother Margaret (centre) arrive at Birmingham Coroner's Court

Helen's brother, an architectural technologist, said: "It's been there all the time, and obviously I can remember the day myself, but I never accepted it all through my adult life.

He added: "For me personally I've always wondered why it took so very, very long in the circumstances of it being reopened."

Charting the impact it has had on the family, Mrs Bailey went back to the day her daughter went missing, and said both she and her son felt "responsible".

She said: "Helen was in the bath and Adrian's friends came to the door and said 'can Helen and Adrian come to the park with us', and Adrian - he was 10 - said 'do we really have to have Helen with us'.

"And I said, 'go on then, I won't tell her'.

"So she then washed and dried and she went down into the garden - and was obviously looking for him.

"And he said to her 'mom said you can't come with us'.

"So then they went to one park, she went down to the other park thinking that's where they'd gone.

"She went to the wrong park.

"So I feel responsible, Adrian feels responsible, but it's all 'if-only' isn't it?"

Describing her daughter, she said: "They all remember her. She was beautiful. She was bubbly, lively, singing, chatting."

She added: "God knows what this man did, whether he chased her, I don't know what happened."

Her brother remembered how "she put up a mean pillow fight", until the pillows "exploded into feathers".

Turning to where the family goes now, following the new inquest's verdict, he said every step in the case had been hindered by the "obviously wrong" conclusions of the original post-mortem.

He added: "We're thankful for the team (of detectives) at the moment, they've been fantastic.

How the Express & Star reported Helen Bailey's death and the launch of the police investigation

"But unfortunately, people in the past have made serious mistakes and errors and we have had the consequence of being delayed so long.

"We're still not getting final closure with having somebody arrested - he's still out there.

"It would be nice to think we might get some people who - even though it's a very long time ago - come forward that might give us that little bit of evidence that tips it over for the Crown Prosecution Service, so we can move forward."

Mrs Bailey, who described whoever killed her daughter as "wicked", said: "We would like closure.

"We've waited 44 years for this day and we just want this man named.

"So that we can get closure for Helen."

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