A police force has apologised to a man wrongly accused of murdering a seven-year-old girl in 1992 after the real killer was finally convicted 31 years later.
Northumbria Police also apologised to the family of Nikki Allan for mistakes made in the original investigation of her murder and the length of time it has taken to bring her real killer, 55-year-old David Boyd, to justice.
After Boyd was convicted at Newcastle Crown Court, the force wrote to innocent man George Heron, who was tried for the offence in 1993, and cleared on the directions of the judge.
Detective Superintendent Lisa Theaker led a complex re-investigation which began in 2017 and culminated in Boyd’s conviction last week.
She told reporters: “In terms of the earlier (1992) investigation, it’s been well publicised that the interviews that were conducted back in the day were oppressive and some of the evidence was misrepresented before George Heron ‘confessed’, and we know the judge excluded that confession.
Assistant Chief Constable Alastair Simpson has written to Mr Heron, who was understood to have had his face slashed while on remand in the 1990s, then had to move away from Sunderland despite being cleared, and was taken in by a religious order.
After Mr Heron was cleared, police said they were not looking for anyone else in connection with Nikki’s murder – although the real killer, Boyd, remained at large.
Mr Heron has provided a statement which will be read to the court when Boyd is sentenced on May 23.
Mr Simpson’s letter states: “I have had the opportunity to read your Victim’s Impact Statement and appreciate the effects of your arrest, charge and trial had on you and continue to have.
Ms Theaker said the investigation team were certain Boyd was the only person responsible for Nikki’s murder and he was not assisted by anyone else.
During the exhaustive re-investigation which she led, and continued to manage despite moving to Cleveland Police, the team looked at more than 1,000 men who could be linked to the inquiry.
This inquiry has not identified any further offences Boyd could have committed.
Ms Theaker said now the trial has finished, the team will be able to share information with Nikki’s mother Sharon Henderson, who has campaigned for more than 30 years to bring justice for her daughter, to reassure the family that no-one else was involved with the murder.
“I cannot imagine the impact on them over the course of the last 30 years, so I have offered to meet with Sharon and with other members of the family and I will be happy to say that to them when I meet them.”
Ms Theaker praised Nikki’s mother for her ceaseless campaigning to keep the pressure on the force over the years.
Ms Henderson met the then Chief Constable Steve Ashman in 2017, who agreed to a re-investigation of the case on the back of advances in DNA techniques which were able to extract new traces from the little girl’s clothes.
The breakthrough ultimately led them to Boyd, but also involved more than 800 Sunderland men volunteering to give DNA samples so they could be eliminated from the inquiry.
Ms Theaker said: “The community in Sunderland have massively helped and they have played their part.”
Boyd, then aged 25, lured Nikki away from the East End flats where she lived and took her to a derelict building where he hit her with a brick and stabbed her 37 times before dumping her, dead or dying, in the basement.
In 1999 he indecently assaulted a nine-year-old in a park and was to tell his probation officer that he had a sexual interest in young girls when he was younger.
Outside court last week, Ms Henderson spoke of the “injustice” that “this evil man slipped through the net to murder Nikki when he was on their (police) files in the first place”.
Asked how she found the strength to keep fighting for justice, Ms Henderson said: “Because Nikki’s my daughter and I love her.”