Wed, 17 May 2023 at 3:27 pm BST
A police force has apologised to a man wrongly accused of murdering seven-year-old Nikki Allan in 1992, after the real killer was finally convicted 31 years later.
Northumbria Police also apologised to the victim’s family for mistakes made in the original investigation of her murder and the length of time it has taken to bring her real killer, 55-year-old David Boyd, to justice.
After Boyd was convicted at Newcastle Crown Court, the force wrote to George Heron, the innocent man who was tried for the offence in 1993 and cleared on the directions of the judge.
Mr Heron was subjected to “oppressive” questioning and denied having any involvement in the murder 120 times during three days of interviews before making some kind of confession.
Det Supt Lisa Theaker led a complex reinvestigation, which began in 2017 and culminated in Boyd’s conviction last week.
She told reporters: “In terms of the earlier  investigation, it has been well-publicised that the interviews that were conducted back in the day were oppressive and some of the evidence was misrepresented before George Heron ‘confessed’, and we know the judge excluded that confession.
“On a national scale, the way we interview people has changed massively.”
Assistant Chief Constable Alastair Simpson has written to Mr Heron, who was understood to have had his face slashed while on remand in the 1990s and had to move away from Sunderland despite being cleared. He was taken in by a religious order.
After Mr Heron was cleared, police said they were not looking for anyone else in connection with Nikki’s murder, although the real killer, Boyd, remained at large.
Mr Heron has provided a statement that will be read out to the court when Boyd is sentenced on May 23.
Mr Simpson’s letter stated: “I have had the opportunity to read your victim’s impact statement, and appreciate the effects your arrest, charge and trial had on you, and continue to have.
“On behalf of Northumbria Police, I would like to apologise for the mistakes that were made in the investigation and I hope, as you express in your statement, that the conviction of Mr Boyd will finally bring closure on this matter for you and allow you to move on with your life.”
Ms Theaker said the investigation team was certain Boyd was the only person responsible for Nikki’s murder and that no one assisted him.
During the exhaustive reinvestigation, which she led and continued to manage despite moving to Cleveland Police, the team looked at more than 1,000 men who could have been linked to the inquiry.
This inquiry has not identified any further offences that Boyd could have committed.
Ms Theaker said that now the trial had finished, the team would be able to share information with Nikki’s mother, Sharon Henderson – who campaigned for justice for her daughter for more than 30 years – to reassure the family that no one else was involved in the murder.
Mr Simpson extended the apology to Nikki’s family, telling reporters: “I am truly sorry for mistakes that were made in the 1992 investigation and I am sorry for the length of time it has taken to get justice for the family.
“I cannot imagine the impact on them over the course of the last 30 years, so I have offered to meet with Sharon and with other members of the family, and I will be happy to say that to them when I meet them.”
Ms Theaker praised Nikki’s mother for her ceaseless campaigning to keep the pressure on the force over the years.
Ms Henderson met with Steve Ashman, the then chief constable, in 2017, who agreed to a reinvestigation of the case on the back of advances in DNA techniques, which were able to extract new traces from Nikki’s clothes.
The breakthrough ultimately led them to Boyd, but it also involved more than 800 Sunderland men volunteering to give DNA samples so they could be eliminated.
Ms Theaker said: “The community in Sunderland have massively helped and they have played their part.”
Boyd, then aged 25, lured Nikki away from the East End flats where she lived and took her to a derelict building, where he hit her with a brick and stabbed her 37 times before dumping her, dead or dying, in the basement.
In 1999, he indecently assaulted a nine-year-old girl in a park and later told his probation officer that he had a sexual interest in young girls when he was younger.
Outside court last week, Ms Henderson spoke of the “injustice” that “this evil man slipped through the net to murder Nikki when he was on their [police] files in the first place”.
Asked how she found the strength to keep fighting for justice, Ms Henderson said: “Because Nikki’s my daughter and I love her.”