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Rapist gets 12 years for 1976 killing

Crime | Published:

A former soldier who raped and killed a schoolgirl has been jailed for 12 years, four decades after an innocent man went to prison for the crime.

Janet Commins

Stephen Hough, 58, hid his guilt while Noel Jones was jailed for killing Janet Commins, 15, in Flint, North Wales, in 1976.

But a billion-to-one match of Hough's DNA with samples found at the crime scene was uncovered after his DNA was taken by police last year.

Hough denied even knowing Janet but was convicted last week by a jury at Mold Crown Court of rape, buggery and manslaughter following a three-week trial.

Hough, from Flint, was cleared of the alternative charge of murder.

Passing sentence Mr Justice Clive Lewis told him: "You have shown no remorse whatsoever for what you did to that young girl.

"You must have thought you had avoided responsibility for your crimes.

"This offence involved a particularly vulnerable victim, a 15-year-old girl, forcibly raped and buggered.

"You held her face down, she was unable to breathe and she died."

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Hough made no reaction as he was jailed, watched from the gallery by Janet's remaining relatives.

An only child, her mother Eileen, her only surviving parent, was too upset to attend court.

A victim impact statement by Janet's uncle, Derek Ierston, who identified her body, was read to the court.

It said the lives of her parents were "torn apart and changed forever" by her death.

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Her mother still weeps for her daughter and her father, Ted, died early, after "he lost interest in life" due to the "unspeakable grief" he suffered.

Mr Ierston's statement continued: "I recall vividly going out that cold, miserable, January winter's night searching for Janet.

"The worst experience of my life was seeing Janet lying there so vulnerable and lifeless. I couldn't sleep for weeks after.

"The police investigation in 1976 seemed to me to be shoddy. After police arrested Noel Jones they showed no interest in dealing with anything else. Anything else as a family we put forward was dismissed."

North Wales Police are now under investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) over how they handled the investigation.

Hough was 16 when he attacked Janet, who was choked as she was repeatedly and violently raped.

But within days police had arrested Noel Jones, 18 at the time, an illiterate scrap dealer from the gypsy community, who eventually pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was jailed.

Mr Jones told Hough's trial that in fact he was browbeaten and "coerced" into making a false confession by detectives.

Janet, an only child, disappeared on January 7 1976, after leaving a note for her parents saying she would return to their home in Flint at around 8.30pm that night.

Described as a slightly timid and shy girl, she visited friends at the local swimming pool but vanished on her way back.

Four days later her body was found by children playing hide and seek, in a thicket near Gwynedd School in Flint.

Semen and cell samples were taken from her body, preserved and stored.

As part of the large-scale murder inquiry, all local young men up to the age of 22 were visited by police and asked to account for their movements on the night Janet disappeared.

Hough, a keen rugby and ice-hockey player, and a "very fit young man", told police he had been stealing petrol that night and was fined £5.

Mr Jones told the jury he was picked up by police outside a pub the day after Janet's body was found, questioned for two days without a solicitor and made a "scapegoat" by the force after signing a confession he could not even read.

He later served six years of a 12-year sentence for manslaughter.

Mr Jones, now 59, told the jury the conviction ruined his life because he was attacked while in jail and ostracised by friends and family on the outside.

Last year he was visited again by police "out of the blue" and to his "shock and relief" was told the case had been reopened.

Meanwhile, Hough served with the British Army in Germany, where he was jailed for five years for grievous body harm.

He had attacked a hotel receptionist, dragged her into a toilet cubicle and was strangling her until he was disturbed. He denied it until forensic evidence linked him to the crime scene.

He was demoted and dismissed from the forces and returned to the UK.

In 2016 police took a sample of Hough's DNA in circumstances "that are of no significance to this case", the jury heard, making the billion-to-one match with the profile from the crime scene.

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