Babes in the Wood by Graham Bartlett & Peter James

“A police procedural that’s as tense as a fictional crime thriller, but even more shocking because it actually happened”

Genre: Non-Fiction


On 9th October 1986, nine-year-olds Nicola Fellows and Karen Hadaway went out to play on their Brighton estate. They would never return home; their bodies discovered the next day concealed in a local park. This devastating crime rocked the country. With unique access to the officers charged with catching the killer, former senior detective Graham Bartlett and bestselling author Peter James tell the compelling inside story of the investigation as the net tightens around local man Russell Bishop. The trial that follows is one of the most infamous in the history of Brighton policing – a shock result sees Bishop walk free.

Three years later, Graham is working in Brighton CID when a seven-year-old girl is abducted and left to die. She survives… and Bishop’s name comes up as a suspect. Is history repeating itself? Can the police put him away this time, and will he ever be made to answer for his past horrendous crimes? Both gripping police-procedural and an insight into the motivations of a truly evil man, Babes in the Wood is a fascinating account of what became a thirty-two-year fight for justice.

Why I loved it

I remember reading about the Babes in the Wood case a couple of years ago. Although I researched what happened, this book gave me so much more detail.

What’s fantastic and interesting to read is the actual details of a police investigation and court cases where defendants are either acquitted or convicted. You read about them in fictional crime thrillers and watch them in TV dramas, but reading about them from the perspective of a retired senior detective just gives these details a different edge. I realised that everything I was reading actually took place, but most of all I began to understand how long the process of justice can take to become reality – in this instance, 32 years.

It was both heart-warming and agonising to read how both Karen and Nicola’s families never gave up their fight for justice and to get to the truth. Whilst a guilty verdict would not bring their girls back, they would at least have the chance to come to terms with and move on from the events of that October night.

Bartlett and James have done a fantastic job with the writing of this book. Police procedures are explained in layman’s terms for you to understand and follow the investigation as if you yourself are working on catching the culprit.

One of the most astonishing details of this book for me was the number of people, both police officers and the general public, who worked together to help find Nicola and Karen, and subsequently work together to get justice for the girls. There is a real sense of community that pervades the narrative when reading about the efforts to get to the truth of the 1986 case. Whilst the circumstances in which people came together were awful, it is nevertheless uplifting to read how personal differences, opinions, and judgments are set aside when a child’s safety is at stake.

The fact that shocked me the most is that Russell Bishop’s third victim not only survives – and only just – but is able to describe what happened to her in great detail and identify Bishop as the culprit. For someone so young, she was incredibly brave to have helped the police in the way she did. When I read about Bishop’s crimes, it made me want the police to nail him that much more. The tension really escalated when I read the details of the court cases as I was desperate to learn whether justice would truly prevail.

Overall, Babes in the Wood is a fantastic police procedural that’s as tense and gripping as a crime thriller. But what’s even more shocking is that it actually happened. You’re drawn into a historical case that you won’t want to put down until you’ve read the final page.

Why you should read it

If you ever doubt police efforts in bringing criminals to justice, or are just curious as to how a police investigation actually works, this is one for you to add to your to-read pile.

Rating: 5/5

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.