A convicted sex predator has gone on trial for the second time for molesting and strangling two schoolgirls in a woodland den 32 years ago.

Nine-year-olds Nicola Fellows and Karen Hadaway went missing while out playing near their home in Brighton, East Sussex, on October 9 1986.

A massive police search led to the “grim discovery” of the friends’ bodies the next day, in Wild Park, on the South Downs about half a mile from their homes.

Murder-accused Russell Bishop joined in the hunt with his terrier Misty, allegedly as part of a “cynical” attempt to divert attention.

He was nearby when a police officer crawled through bracken and found the girls lying together in a clearing.

Nicola was on her back with her legs up, wearing a pink top, while Karen was lying across her friend, her head in her lap.

Karen Hadaway (left) and Nicola FellowsKaren Hadaway (left) and Nicola Fellows. Russell Bishop is accused of murdering the two girls more than 30 years ago (PA)

Both appeared to be sleeping, with their hands close together, the Old Bailey was told.

Local roofer Bishop, then aged 20, was charged with their murders but was cleared after a trial at Lewes Crown Court in 1987.

Within three years of his acquittal, Bishop kidnapped, indecently assaulted and tried to kill a seven-year-old girl in Brighton.

The child was able to identify her attacker and Bishop was convicted following another Lewes trial in 1990.

Prosecutor Brian Altman QC told the Old Bailey that Bishop’s earlier acquittal was quashed at the Court of Appeal in light of new evidence following advances in DNA testing.

The girls’ families, including Karen’s mother Michelle Hadaway, sat in court for the start of Bishop’s second trial for the murders.

Mr Altman said: “Thirty-two years ago, almost to the day, on Friday October 10 1986, two nine-year-old girls, Nicola Fellows and Karen Hadaway, were found dead in the woods at Wild Park in Brighton.

“Both had gone missing the evening before, Thursday October 9 1986, and, despite searches by police and public, they were not to be found until the following afternoon.

Russell BishopRussell Bishop denies murdering the girls (Elizabeth Cook/PA)

“That grim discovery led to the largest and longest-running police inquiry Sussex Police has ever known.

“The killings were entirely intentional and they were carried out in the woods by a man who sexually assaulted them for his own gratification. That man, say the prosecution, was this defendant, Russell Bishop.

“Evidence of the re-evaluation of the science available at the time of the original trial, and new science, we suggest, proves that Russell Bishop was, to the exclusion of anyone else, responsible for the murders of the two little girls.”

He said the motive for the murders was “sexual and paedophilic”.

Similarities between the 1990 attack and the 1986 killings, together with other “compelling and powerful” evidence, all point to Bishop being responsible, jurors were told.

As well as the DNA evidence, the case against Bishop rests on his movements, his actions and what he had to say to the police, including “significant lies” he told at the time, jurors heard.

The jury will visit Wild Park and were shown images of the girls in the secluded “den” in which they were sexually assaulted and killed.

Mr Altman said the “upsetting” pictures showed Bishop knew important details about the scene that “only the killer could have known”.

While some of the witnesses in the case are now either dead or too ill to give evidence, their accounts can be read out to jurors.

On the day of their disappearance, the girls, who lived in the same street in Moulsecoomb, had gone out to play after school.

Nicola was described as the stronger of the pair. She was a “very friendly girl” and “outgoing”, while Karen was “a very sensible girl” who could be “cheeky”, according to their mothers.

Both the girls were afraid of the dark, Mr Altman said.

Russell BishopRussell Bishop in about 1988 (PA)

At the time of the killings, Bishop was living a mile and a half away with his partner, young son and terrier cross-breed Misty.

He was also in a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old girl called Marion Stevenson, which was a reason why neither of the girls’ parents wanted them to be around the couple.

On the afternoon of their disappearance, the girls were seen playing in a tree in the park and outside a fish and chip shop and must have still been alive at 6.30pm, jurors heard.

Around this time, Bishop was seen heading home, but the prosecution claim he must have turned back to Wild Park.

The next day, as news of the girls’ disappearance spread, Bishop joined in the search with his dog.

Bishop was allegedly heard to say he would “hate to find the girls, especially if they had been messed up”.

At about 4pm, a blue Pinto sweatshirt with red stains on the chest and right sleeve, which allegedly holds vital DNA links, was handed in to police.

Pc Paul Smith, known as Smudge, came across Bishop, who told him he was not searching any more because “if I found the girls and if they were done in I’d get the blame, I’d get nicked”.

As they were talking, a searcher ran down the path saying: “We’ve found them.”

Bishop ran ahead and joined another man who had spotted the bodies some 15 feet away.

The defendant made to move towards the girls but was told to get back, the court heard.

Pc Smith asked how they were and Bishop said: “They’re f****** dead.”

The officer then crawled forward to check the girls’ pulses.

Bishop, now aged 52, has denied two charges of murder.

The trial was adjourned until Wednesday.