A police force has formally apologized to a man who three decades ago was wrongly accused of murdering a seven-year-old girl, after the real killer was finally convicted.
George Heron was 24 years old when he was charged with the murder of Sunderland girl Nikki Allan in 1992.
He was prevented from making a confession and found not guilty after a judge ruled that several oppressive police interview tapes were inadmissible.
David Boyd was convicted on Friday and Northumbria police have now apologized to Heron.
The force also said it hopes to meet the members of Nikki’s family who will share the same apology, sorry for the mistakes made and the time it took to get the right person.
Nikki, a shy seven-year-old, was hit on the head with a brick and then stabbed 37 times by a man who, it is now known, is Boyd, now 55 years old.
Heron was quickly arrested and denied the murder 120 times during three days of intense questioning before “confessing”. The questions were repetitive and oppressive, a judge said, and included allegations of sexual assault.
Northumbria’s assistant chief constable Alastair Simpson said the case had led to changes in the way all police interviews are carried out across the country.
“As a probationer in my early police career,” he said, “I remember listening to the interview. I think the impact was great and I’m happy to say that the actual improved standards and changes -or in practice included.
“There are many differences between the way we did things in 1992 and the way we do things today.”
A remarkable part of the case is the determination of Nikki’s mother, Sharon Henderson, to get justice. She talked about how bad she was at the police, how she was “treated like a drunk mother with mental health problems”.
DCS Lisa Theaker, who led the investigation, said Henderson deserved respect for his “constant and relentless campaign for justice”.
Theaker and Simpson hope to meet with Henderson and other members of Nikki’s family to answer questions.
“I just hope, that once we talk about some of the things that you don’t hear in court about other people that he’s concerned about, it might bring some relief,” Theaker said.
The conviction was only possible because of advances made in forensic science, which led to DNA on Nikki’s clothes being linked to Boyd. But it was a long, complicated, painstaking investigation, police said, with more than 1,000 other men to rule out.
Heron asked the police to make the apology public, even though no one knew about the life he had taken. When a tabloid newspaper tracked him down four years after the case he said: “There were times when I wondered if I had killed Nikki …
A Heron victim impact statement form is expected to be read at Boyd’s sentencing on May 23.