Murdered art student, 22, could have been tied to a tree with her bra on – but police destroy the clue

An art student whose death has been linked to serial killer Peter Tobin may have been tied to a tree with her bra by a sexual predator, an inquest heard yesterday has heard.

Jessie Earl disappeared from a studio in Eastbourne, East Sussex, in 1980.

The 22-year-old’s naked body was only found nine years later hiding in the undergrowth near Beachy Head.

Her clothes were missing except for her bra which had been used to bind her wrists and tied in such a way that it could have been used as a “restraint, gag, weapon or ligature”, according to the inquest.

Jessie Earl, 22, disappeared near Beachy Head, East Sussex, in 1980 without a trace

Tobin was living near Brighton when Jessie went missing and she had described meeting a middle-aged Scottish man at Beachy Head to her mother.

Tobin was living near Brighton when Jessie went missing and she had described meeting a middle-aged Scottish man at Beachy Head to her mother.

Despite potential evidence of restraint, police did not consider the death near the well-known suicide site a murder until a review in 2000 concluded that she had been killed.

Now a new inquest has heard that the key piece of evidence has been destroyed.

Today Miss Earl’s parents, John and Valerie, who are over 90, spoke of their anger at the flawed 1989 inquiry.

And a detective who worked on the original case suggested their daughter was tied to a tree and sexually assaulted.

The bra was destroyed by Sussex Police in accordance with their routine ‘disposal policy’, to the fury of her family who had hoped DNA testing could link the clothes to Tobin, 75.

Retired Sussex Police Detective Sergeant Anne Capon has claimed potentially vital evidence in the alleged murder of 22-year-old Jessie Earl was 'destroyed' by police.  Pictured outside Eastbourne Town Hall today

Retired Sussex Police Detective Sergeant Anne Capon has claimed potentially vital evidence in the alleged murder of 22-year-old Jessie Earl was ‘destroyed’ by police. Pictured outside Eastbourne Town Hall today

He is said to have lived near Brighton at the time of his disappearance. The killer is serving a life sentence in Edinburgh for the murders of three other women.

Miss Earl had described meeting a middle-aged Scottish man at Beachy Head to her mother shortly before she disappeared.

Today, retired Sussex Detective Sergeant Anne Capon told the inquest at Eastbourne Town Hall: ‘We believed she had been held back in some way by her bra and because she was found near a tree.”

But it was impossible to verify whether a sexual assault had taken place due to the amount of time that had elapsed before she was found.

Ms Capon told the coroner she thought Ms Earl had ‘probably’ been tied to a tree, possibly using her bra, and said there was ‘maybe’ a sexual element involved .

Ms Capon said Ms Earl’s bones were ‘scattered’ but a ‘number of bones were closer to the tree’ and the bra, the only item of clothing recovered, was ‘found very close to the base of the tree”.

Ms Capon, who has been involved in the case at its various stages over the decades, said that bra was ‘disposed of’ by police.

Miss Capon added: ‘I always thought Jessie was murdered.

After the inquest reopened into Ms Earl's death in 2000, Ms Capon said she learned that some evidence, such as the bra, had been

After the inquest into Ms Earl’s death in 2000 was reopened, Ms Capon said she learned that some evidence, such as the bra, had been “destroyed some time before”.

The horrific crimes of serial killer Peter Tobin

Tobin is currently serving three life sentences for the murders of Angelika Kluk, Vicky Hamilton and Dinah McNicol.

In 2008, the 75-year-old was caged for the murder of 15-year-old Vicky Hamilton after she disappeared at Bathgate in 1991.

Her body was found alongside that of Dinah McNicol, 18, from Tillingham in Essex, who also disappeared in 1991.

In 2017 the two bodies were discovered in the garden of a house in Margate, Kent, where Tobin moved from Bathgate.

Tobin also raped and murdered Polish student Angelika Kluk, 23, whose body was found under the floorboards of a church in Anderston, Glasgow.

She was involved in the original 1981 investigation and was seconded to the investigation after Miss Earl’s body was found in 1989. She also worked on a 2000 investigation, Operation Silk, which ultimately concluded that Mrs Earl had been murdered.

She said this was due to “circumstances”, such as “the way the bra was tied” and “the fact that she was in such dense undergrowth”.

She said she “just couldn’t see how Jessie could have gotten into dense bushes like that, and there were various other things that made me think she was murdered”, such as the fact that it was “out of his normal walking route”.

After the inquest into Ms Earl’s death in 2000 was reopened, Ms Capon said she learned that some evidence, such as the bra, had been “destroyed some time before”.

She told the inquest it was part of Sussex Police’s ‘disposal policy’ where items are ‘disposed of after a certain period of time’.

She said: “I think it was one of those cases where, because it wasn’t considered a murder in 1989, I don’t think anyone insisted that those pieces should be kept forever.”

Ms Capon said the ‘tremendous progress’ in forensic testing since the body was discovered means there is ‘every chance’ police could have found DNA evidence on the bra, which she think the alleged killer would have hit.

She later added, “At the very least, a note should have been left, a very visible note, with these exhibits, saying they should never be disposed of.”

A second inquest into Jessie's death, which was ordered by the High Court in December, opened today at Eastbourne Town Hall, East Sussex.  Pictured are Jessie's parents, John and Val

A second inquest into Jessie’s death, which was ordered by the High Court in December, opened today at Eastbourne Town Hall, East Sussex. Pictured are Jessie’s parents, John and Val

She said the ‘majority’ of those working on the investigation shared her view that Ms Earl was likely to have been murdered.

But she claimed the lead investigator had “insisted” that they not air such views, the inquest found.

She added: “He made a political decision that it wouldn’t be considered murder.”

“I remember some time after the investigation began, we were told in no uncertain terms that we were not to refer to it as murder or not to speak of it as murder.”

Despite Ms. Capon’s testimony at the 1989 inquest, the coroner entered an open verdict. A second inquest was ordered by the High Court in December after the victim’s parents called the initial investigation “woefully inadequate”.

Stephen Kamlish, QC, for the family, has called for the original police documents in the case to be released.

No arrests were ever made and the case remains open. Sussex Police have argued that releasing certain information from reports could tip off the killer.

The investigation continues on Wednesday.

Kayleen C. Rice