THE TRIAL of Nigel Barwell and Thomas O’Reilly – charged with murdering missing Coventry mum Nicola Payne – continued this week.
Observer reporter Beth Sharp was in court to hear vital evidence in the case against the 51-year-olds from Coventry, who both deny murdering Nicola.
The 18-year-old went missing from the Wood End area of the city on December 14, 1991 – her body was never found.
The prosecution claim the pair murdered her as she walked across a piece of waste land known as the ‘Black Pad’.
Among the key discussions in court in the second week of the trial were two separate sightings of a girl matching Nicola’s description with a man – both of which resulted in a similar e-fit being created, various other alleged sightings and the validity of forensic evidence found in a tent on the recreation ground shortly after Nicola’s disappearance, which contained hair possibly belonging to the young mum.
The tent was examined in a laboratory in 1992 and February 1993 before it was put in a clear polythene bag which was left unsealed and placed inside a brown sack which was stapled closed.
The jury were told between 1993 and February 2014 the whereabouts of the tent was unknown, but that it was recovered in the same condition it was left in.
Expert forensic scientist Rosalyn Hammond who revisited the evidence from the case between 2013 and 2015, also told the jury it was ‘not impossible’ for the evidence to have been contaminated or for the hairs accidentally transferred into the tent.
For absoulte clarity on the forensic evidence – given the long period of time elapsed – Mr Dennis said Ms Hammond would have needed to know which officers handled the tent, whether or not they had been to the victim’s or the accused’s home where they could have picked up evidence traces and be able to ensure there were safeguarding measures put in place to prevent contamination in the tent during the investigation.
Mr Dennis said Mr Ian Alsop, a former detective constable with West Midlands Police, had, earlier in the trial, admitted there had been no safeguarding measures against contamination.
Mr Dennis asked Ms Hammond if there was a risk of a hair getting into the tent – but she said she thought it would be ‘extremely unlikely’ for a hair to fall off the tent, onto the floor, and then accidentally be transferred into it.
Among the other key facts being discussed in week two of the trial were the many alleged and possible sightings of Nicola.
• Two separate sightings of a girl matching Nicola’s description with a man – the first on Black Road, close to Woodway Walk, on December 14 between 11am and 1pm and the second on the Black Pad between 11am and 1pm.
• A train ticket collector reported a sighting of two girls Birmingham bound, one of which he was fairly confident fitted Nicola’s description.
• A claimed sighting of someone looking like Nicola, wearing a pink shell suit, walking towards some shops near to her home between 4.30pm and 5pm on December 14.
• Another person reported a sighting at about 12.30pm the same day (December 14) and had claimed he was driving his car, in the same area, when his attention was drawn to a man walking down the road who looked ‘unkempt’, ‘unwashed’ and as a ‘scruffy strange figure’.
The court heard this man later saw him again standing with a girl who he was ‘certain’ was Nicola at a bus stop on Henley Road in Coventry.
• A driver also claimed he saw a girl when he stopped on the A50 in the early hours of December 16 wearing a jacket ‘identical’ to the one described as Nicola’s.
The court heard the girl was with another woman and two older men who looked like they had all been on a night out and police believed this was not the actions of young girl who had left home deliberately.
The trial continues.