Convicted paedophile Russell Bishop has been found guilty of murdering two nine-year-old girls in 1986.
Bishop, 52, was tried for the second time over the deaths of Nicola Fellows and Karen Hadaway when new evidence linked him to the crime after he was cleared of their murders in 1987.
The girls were sexually assaulted and strangled in a den in Wild Park, Brighton, more than three decades ago.
A discarded sweatshirt on Bishop’s route home linked him to the crime by DNA while fibre, paint and ivy hairs placed it at the murder scene.
Tests revealed a “one-in-a-billion” DNA match to Bishop from a sample taken from Karen’s left forearm.
Their mothers described Bishop, who was aged 20 at the time, as an “evil monster” after 32 years of fighting for justice.
Speaking after the Old Bailey verdict, 31 years to the day Bishop was first acquitted, Karen’s mother Michelle Hadaway said she was “relieved”.
“I lost my heart a long time ago and I was waiting for it to come back, I just sat there [in court] and thought ‘we’ve got to get it this time’,” she said.
“It was just a relief to think that we waited all this time to get the right decision, I was just relieved.”
Reflecting on the decades that have passed since her daughter was killed, she said it had been “a hard, long, sad and often lonely road like a rollercoaster, with ups, down, highs and lows – but we’ve got there”.
Ms Hadaway said that Karen’s death “destroyed” her husband before branding Bishop a “coward without a conscience”.
Nicola’s mother Sue Eismann said it was “great to hear” the guilty verdict after years of fighting for justice.
“After all these years of waiting and waiting but now we’ve got the justice for our little girls,” she said.
She added: “It will take time to move on – it’s always going to be on your mind, that your daughter’s not there.”
Although Bishop, a former roofer, was originally cleared of the “babes in the wood” murders, within three years he was sentenced to life for the kidnap, sexual assault and attempted murder of a seven-year-old girl at Devil’s Dyke on the South Downs.
Giving evidence earlier in the trial, Bishop said he feared he would be blamed when he joined the search to find the girls on 10 October 1986.
He told jurors: “There was a few things that led to that kind of thinking.
“A couple of years before this I was wrongfully arrested for the Grand Hotel bombing in Brighton.”
When two 18-year-olds found the girls’ bodies, Bishop said he was told to keep people away from the scene in Wild Park.
He said: “The young man sitting down said he did not know whether they were asleep or dead.
“I went straight to the victims, felt for a pulse, neck on Nicola and Karen on the right arm.”
Bishop told jurors he felt “shocked, totally sickened”.
He denied the murders, and said during questioning that he just told officers “what they wanted to hear”. He claimed the new evidence against him could have been contaminated.
Bishop said: “It was obvious they were not going to believe me over what those two boys were saying.
“I was being called a liar. They had been downright nasty. I was being kept a prisoner.
“I was having two police officers bullying and totally destroying me in that room.
“I’m dyslexic and I could not read or write. I had poor problem-solving skills. It was the only way I was going to get out of there.”
Bishop earlier said he felt “deeply ashamed” for abducting the younger girl in 1990, adding that he was “in a bad state” after his first murder trial.
An NSPCC spokesperson said: “This is a truly awful case that has haunted a community for decades.
“Bishop is a particularly despicable predator and at least behind bars he can no longer harm another child. We hope today’s verdict brings the families of Karen and Nicola some measure of closure.”