Businessman cleared of murdering Vicky Hall

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The Independent Online

A newspaper owner was cleared on Monday of murdering the Suffolk sixth-form student Vicky Hall, whose disappearance two years ago sparked an exhaustive police search.

Adrian Bradshaw expressed his relief at the verdict but said he sympathised for the family of the 17-year-old, who was strangled and left in a ditch after visiting a nightclub in Felixstowe.

Miss Hall's parents, who described their daughter in court as a vivacious and teetotal "model daughter", said they were numbed by the verdict. Her father, Graham, said: "Whether Adrian Bradshaw was found guilty or not really made very little difference to us. Unless someone actually owns up to their actions on that night and tells us exactly what happened, that is the only little bit of help we could have."

During the two-week trial at Norwich Crown Court, prosecution counsel said Mr Bradshaw, 27, the owner of a local free newspaper, The Felixstowe Flyer, was seen near Miss Hall's home on the night of her murder. Traces of soil in Mr Bradshaw's Porsche car were found to be similar to soil at the crime scene. But yesterday jurors, who finished hearing evidence last week, took less than 90 minutes to find Mr Bradshaw not guilty.

Asked whether police were looking for anyone else, Detective Superintendent Roy Lambert, who led one of the biggest murder investigations the Suffolk force had launched, said: "I believe we have obtained as much evidence as we can."

He added: "We have been investigating this for over two years and I believe we have looked down every avenue for the person who did this offence."

Miss Hall, who grew up in the village of Trimley St Mary, was studying for three A-levels at Orwell High School in nearby Felixstowe when she disappeared in the early hours of 19 September 1999 after walking home from the Bandbox nightclub with her best friend, Gemma Algar, who is now 19. The girls said goodnight a few hundred yards from their respective homes and Miss Hall was never seen alive again. Her naked body was discovered five days later in a water-filled ditch 25 miles away in the village of Creeting St Peter. There were no signs of sexual assault or strangulation, apart from a bruise on her back. Post-mortem tests showed she was probably suffocated.

Prosecution witnesses said Mr Bradshaw, who had spent part of Saturday night at the same club, was dropped off by a taxi a few hundred yards from where Miss Hall disappeared at 2.30am.

Other witnesses told the court that at the same time they heard two "horrifying" screams followed shortly afterwards by the roar of a "throaty" exhaust, which were alleged to have come from the Porsche 944 owned by Mr Bradshaw, who admitted drinking 10 pints of beer and several vodkas that night.

There were, though, no sightings of the car at the time and the prosecution's evidence, which showed a near match between soil samples in the car and the ditch, were undermined when a geologist called by the defence said the sample could have come from elsewhere in East Anglia.

One of Mr Bradshaw's friends, Peter Dugdale, a 27-year-old hairdresser, said that when they went out on pub crawls together Mr Bradshaw was a "happy drunk" who did not have a malicious bone in his body.

Outside court, Mr Bradshaw said: "Obviously my sympathies go out to Vicky Hall's family. A jury of 12 normal members of the public have reached the verdict. I had confidence in myself. I did not commit this crime. I am innocent."

Simon Nicholls, Mr Bradshaw's solicitor, said after the verdict: "Two and a half years ago this investigation started. Eighteen months ago Adrian Bradshaw was first spoken to. He has spent a year of his life come Christmas in prison. And in just over an hour a jury unanimously acquitted him."

Det Supt Lambert said Ms Hall's murder had "sent shock waves" through the local community and had "deeply affected" everyone involved in the police inquiry. "Our sympathies go out to Victoria's family and friends," he said. "Unfortunately they still do not know what happened on that night or what the motive was for this attack.

"Victoria's murder sparked off one of the biggest investigations undertaken by Suffolk police. The inquiry team has already sifted through a massive quantity of information and have shown great dedication and I would like to personally thank them for all their hard work throughout this long- running investigation.

"We will now go away and review our investigation in the light of today's decision."