A man has been sentenced to 12 years imprisonment for the 1976 rape and manslaughter of Janet Commins, a 15 year old girl, a crime that made national news at the time. Stephen Hough was interviewed along with all local men aged 17-22, but was ruled out after claiming to have been stealing petrol at the time. Instead, another local young man, Noel Jones, a barely literate 18-year-old traveller who had been picked up by police the day Janet’s body was discovered, was interviewed for days without legal assistance. He denied all knowledge of the crime but later his girlfriend told police he had confessed to killing Janet and had asked her to provide him with an alibi. After two days of questioning, he signed two detailed confession statements. On the second day of his murder trial in June 1976, he admitted manslaughter and was sentenced to 12 years in prison. Noel Jones spent 6 years in prison for the murder.
(Picture l-r: Stephen Hough, Janet Commins and Noel Jones)
At the time of the investigation, police suspected Jones had an accomplice, and in 2006 they undertook a ‘cold case review’ to try and secure forensic evidence against their second suspect. This did not match, and was uploaded to the National DNA Database. A decade later, Stephen Hough was arrested after sexually assaulting another 15 year old girl. When DNA was taken, this was also uploaded to the National DNA Database where it matched the crime scene DNA from the 1976 murder.
Noel Jones described the six years he spent in prison as a “nightmare” which “absolutely destroyed my life”. He has never challenged his conviction, but says he is innocent and only confessed because police had pressured and coerced him.
The original investigation is now being re-examined. The police officer in charge of the investigation rose through the ranks to become Deputy Chief-Constable. At Hough’s trial he gave evidence that nobody thought to offer Noel Jones a solicitor during the initial stages of his questioning because he wanted to investigate “properly and thoroughly”. Police could be “impeded” by solicitors representing clients, he said, adding that “there was no requirement in those days for a person to be advised that he could have a solicitor”.
Yet another miscarriage of justice from the era prior to mandatory police recording of interviews, where police practice was to aim to secure confessions at all costs. One wonders how many more are laying dormant, with no DNA to reveal the truth after all these years.
Read more here: