Murder trial 40 years after crime as DNA evidence found in Lancashire lab

Schoolgirl Janet Commins died in Flint, North Wales in January 1976. Photo: North Wales Police/PA Wire
Schoolgirl Janet Commins died in Flint, North Wales in January 1976. Photo: North Wales Police/PA Wire
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A man is standing trial for the rape and murder of a schoolgirl more than 40 years ago, after a key piece of forensic evidence was found in a lab in Lancashire.

Stephen Hough allegedly choked to death Janet Commins, 15, as he violently and repeatedly sexually assaulted her in Flint, North Wales in January 1976.

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Latest court news, 24 hours a day, at www.chad.co.uk

But Hough, now 58, was only arrested after a billion-to-one match of his DNA from samples taken from the crime scene and preserved for 40 years, Mold Crown Court has heard.

In the meantime another man, Noel Jones, 18 at the time and an illiterate scrap metal dealer from the gypsy community, pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was jailed for 12 years after telling the jury he was “coerced” by police into a false confession.

Hough’s former wife, Delyth Sands, has told the jury the defendant confessed to killing someone at home in North Wales when they were married and living in Germany in the 80s when he served in the army.

In closing speeches to the jury in the third week of the trial, Mark Heywood QC, prosecuting, told the jury the man whose DNA was found on Janet’s body was the man who had raped and murdered her - Hough.

The defendant, from Flint, denies murder, rape and buggery, between January 5 and January 12, 1976.

He repeatedly told the jury he had no explanation for his DNA being present at the crime scene.

But Patrick Harrington QC, defending, said Hough did not have to prove anything and questioned the integrity of the handling of the DNA samples, which he described as a “shambles”.

At one point, after a request from police conducting a cold case review in 2003, the samples could not be located, until they were eventually found, three years later, in a “sea of envelopes” inside a box on shelves at the Forensic Science Service laboratory in Buckshaw Village, near Chorley.

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

Four days later her body was found by children playing hide and seek, in a thicket near Gwynedd School, very close to Hough’s home at the time.

Semen and cell samples were taken from her body, preserved, and stored on the police database.

In 2016 police took a sample of Hough’s DNA which matched the profile of the samples from Janet’s body, and it was calculated to be a billion times more likely to have originated from him than anyone else.

Before sending the jury out, trial judge Mr Justice Clive Lewis asked them to reach majority verdicts on all counts.