Birmingham & Black Country

Birmingham Little Girl Blue murder suspect 'confessed'

Helen Bailey Image copyright Family handout
Image caption Helen Bailey, dubbed Little Girl Blue, was found dead in woodland in 1975

A man police believe murdered an eight-year-old girl in 1975 made confessions to medical professionals, an inquest has heard.

Helen Bailey, dubbed Little Girl Blue, disappeared from her Birmingham home and was found dead in woodland.

John Sir was said to have made admissions in 1978 and 1979, allegedly telling a doctor he strangled her and used a penknife to cut her throat.

The inquest has concluded she was unlawfully killed.

On Thursday, Sir - who was formerly known as Kenneth Etchells - lost a legal bid to protect his anonymity.

However, giving evidence to the inquest at Birmingham Coroner's Court via video-link on Friday, he claimed "no memory" of admitting to the murder.

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Media captionMargaret Bailey says she still talks about daughter Helen, more than 40 years after her death

Helen, who was wearing blue clothes at the time of her disappearance, left her home in Perry Barr to play at about 15:30 BST on 10 August.

Her mother alerted police when she did not return home and her body was found the next day.

Speaking at a new inquest into Helen's death on Friday, Det Ch Supt Caroline Marsh from West Midlands Police said she was "absolutely certain" Helen had been murdered and there were "no other outstanding suspects" besides Sir.

An inquest in 1976 heard Helen may have died as a result of an "accident or practical joke gone wrong".

Jurors returned an open verdict, but it was quashed earlier this year with judges citing evidence from 2014 that she had been strangled.

Threat to wife

The new inquest was told Sir had admitted to her murder in 1978 when he asked to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital following an attempt to kill himself.

However, after being arrested in 2014 he claimed the confession was fabricated to convince hospital staff to admit him as he was concerned he was going to kill himself or his wife.

The inquest heard medical staff said he was admitted because of the threat to himself and his wife, not the confession.

Giving evidence, Sir was asked by the coroner what he remembers of 10 August 1975, to which he replied "not a lot, it was a long time ago".

Speaking from an unnamed prison, Sir, now 72, agreed that he was walking two dogs in the local area on the day Helen vanished.

He said he had no memory of making the confessions of murdering Helen, but said he knows he would have done so to make himself interesting to mental health staff and to get a "refuge" to sort out his suicidal thoughts.

When asked how to explain the fact his confession of the details of how he allegedly killed Helen match the new pathologist assessment of causes of death, Sir said it must be "a coincidence".

Sir was given a life sentence in 1991 for the attempted murder of his mother who was attacked with a hammer and died months later from pneumonia.

Image copyright West Midlands Police
Image caption Helen went missing from her home in Booths Farm Road

Forensic pathologist Dr Nathaniel Carey told the inquest he believed an original post-mortem examination from 1975 would have misled the original coroner, as it suggested the cut to her neck was "shallow", which the coroner concluded could have been from a tree branch.

Dr Carey said photos suggested it was a more substantial cut and Helen was most likely unconscious and lying on the ground when it occurred and there were signs of asphyxia before the cut.

Speaking after the conclusion of the inquest, Helen's mother Margaret Bailey, 86, said the death and subsequent trauma had "blighted our lives".

"Obviously, I have grieved for all these years," she said.

"She's with me all the time, I'm talking about her all the time, my friends all know about her, and my family, everybody knows about it.

"So now it would be lovely to have closure - a bit late. But better late than never."

Helen's brother Adrian said: "We're still not getting final closure with having somebody arrested - he's still out there.

"It would be nice to think we might get some people who - even though it's a very long time ago - come forward that might give us that little bit of evidence that tips it over for the Crown Prosecution Service, so we can move forward."

Senior Birmingham coroner Louise Hunt said she intended to write to the CPS after hearing of Sir's previous confessions to Helen's killing.

Mrs Hunt said she had written before the inquest to the CPS, which had already replied to say it would only reconsider the case again if new evidence was presented.

Recording her finding of unlawful killing, the coroner said: "I will be writing to them again with the outcome of this case and asking them to reconsider their decision."

Following the inquest, Det Ch Supt Mark Payne, from West Midlands Police, said: "We are actively pursuing this investigation - a cold case review - and are very much hopeful of bringing an offender to justice."

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