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Inside Out: Surprising Stories, Familiar Places

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   Inside Out - North East: Monday November 6, 2006
Exclusive web story
Sharon Henderson
Sharon Henderson

A mother's story...

Fourteen years ago Nikki Allan, a seven-year-old girl, was murdered on Wear Garth estate in Sunderland.

It was a crime of extreme brutality.

Nikki's body was found in a derelict building - she had been battered over the head and stabbed 37 times.

Arrest of a neighbour

A house-to-house inquiry resulted in the eventual arrest of a neighbour, George Heron.

Under police questioning, Heron admitted killing Nikki.

But during his trial in October 1993, the Judge threw out the confession saying detectives had used "oppressive methods" to obtain it.

Heron was found not guilty.

Read more...

For 14 years Sharon has been fighting tirelessly to find Nikki's murderer and bring them to justice.

Now the police are reviewing the evidence, and one of the country's leading solicitors is convinced that Sharon has got a case.

Inside Out takes Sharon back to the murder scene and investigates the case.

Return to Wear Garth

Back in 1993 Sharon Henderson was a single mum bringing up four children on the Wear Garth estate, close to where Nikki died.

On the night of the murder, Nikki and her mum had visited her grandfather, who also lived in the Wear Garth flats.

"I feel physically sick. I know she was crying for me, crying for mam, and I just cannot get that vision out of my head... I just picture her little body in the corner."
Sharon on returning to the murder scene

But Nikki had decided to return home alone before her mother.

It was a short 150 yard walk down a corridor, but she never made it back to the flat.

Her body was found outside the derelict Old Exchange building, 300 yards from her home.

After Heron was found not guilty of the murder, fighting broke out in court and Sharon passed out.

Even now she can't remember a lot about the next few years.

Search for justice

Twelve years ago Sharon sued George Heron in the civil courts for battery of a child resulting in her death.

The proof of evidence is lesser in the civil courts.

Heron did not contest the case and Sharon won.

Now she wants the police to re-examine DNA evidence to see if Heron should be brought back to trial or eliminated from further enquiries.

Sharon in tears
Looking for answers - Sharon Henderson, mother of Nikki

Since the murder science has moved on and Nikki's case is now being re-examined by Northumbria Police's cold case team.

They hope that new DNA techniques could lead to the breakthrough Sharon is so desperate for.

Sharon has also been meeting her new solicitor who deals with high profile cases.

But she's frustrated at the lack of progress:

"I just feel as though I'm just poor little Sharon stuck in the house waiting for the phone but I'm Nikki's mum and I want justice."

Det Supt Steve Howes understands Sharon's desire to move on:

"I understand that she needs closure and I hope this review gives her that but at this stage its far too early to say."

Read Sharon's story and her interview with Anne Ming

Double jeopardy

The double jeopardy law dated back 800 years to the Middle Ages. It ruled that a person acquitted by a jury could not be tried again on the same charge.

Ann Ming contested the double jeopardy rule. She wrote to the Law Commission, (which advises the government on legal reform), and approached the Home Secretary. She also argued her case with members of the House of Lords.

In 2001 the Law Commission announced a review of the law.

A major breakthrough came under the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which allowed the quashing of an acquittal if "new and compelling" evidence was produced.

The case of Ann Ming's daughter, Julie Hogg, was the first referred to the Court of Appeal under the new Act.

It was the first time that a retrial and conviction was achieved for a double jeopardy case.

Double jeopardy

The 'double jeopardy' law prevents someone from being tried twice for the same crime.

However, it may still be possible for Heron to face a new trial thanks to a change.

Ann Ming, from Teesside, has been a long time campaigner for the double jeopardy law to be scrapped.

She has become a close friend of Sharon Henderson in her battle for justice.

Ann's daughter, Julie Hogg, went missing from her Billingham home in 1989.

The 22-year-old's body was eventually found behind a bath panel.

Local man Billy Dunlop was charged with her murder, but acquitted after a trial.

Ann campaigned for years to change the law stopping people being tried twice for the same offence.

Nine years later Dunlop confessed to the crime and was jailed for perjury.

He become the first man to be tried again for murder - and has been jailed for life.

Closure?

Sharon Henderson has come so far but still, she faces an agonising wait.

Going back to court could now be an option but will DNA evidence be strong enough to identify Nikki's killer?

Sharon is determined to get the answers she needs:

"I will get closure because I will not give up until I've got justice for Nikki."

Victim Support help

Victim Support line

For a full list of Victim Support services in the North East and Cumbria, click here.

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Empire Theatre

Rudolf Nureyev
Mixed reception at the Empire Theatre - Rudolf Nureyev

The Sunderland Empire is celebrating its 100th birthday.

The theatre has survived against the odds to become one of the premier touring theatres in the UK.

Charlie Hardwick looks back at the history of one of the region's finest venues.

A century of entertainment

Building started on the Empire Theatre 100 years ago in autumn 1906.

It became the grandest theatre in town with a 90 foot tower crowned with a dome, a revolving steel globe and, at its very top, a seven foot high statue of the Greek muse Terpsichore.

Visit the BBC Wear photo gallery

The Empire was one of the very last big variety halls in Britain.

The theatre was set up by Richard Thornton who hailed from South Shields - he had invented the idea of variety theatre.

Thornton wanted to make that kind of entertainment respectable and refined so he built a palace, crammed with lavish opulence.

The grand main entrance with its majestic staircase was for the well-to-do only, and there were separate entrances for the working classes.

The inside of the auditorium was similarly impressive with a large circular dome rising above the lofty ceiling.

Star studded cast

The Sunderland Empire opened to the public on the July 1, 1907.

The theatre was packed to the rafters with 3,000 people there to see one of the country's biggest stars of the time - Vesta Tilley, an impersonator.

Morecambe and Wise
Bringing sunshine to the Empire - Morecambe and Wise

Down the years some very big stars were to tread the boards including Sir Harry Lauder, Charlie Chaplin, Stan Laurel, and WC Fields.

The range of entertainment was dazzling with everything from cricketing elephants and cycling saxophonists.

But by the 1930s the fortunes of the Sunderland Empire began to wane due to the depression.

The Empire survived because its owners closed the Gateshead and South Shields Empire theatres instead.

Sunderland was heavily bombed during the 2nd World War, but the Empire thrived providing audiences an escape from the austerity of the time.

All time greats

Through the 1940s and 1950s many of the all-time greats starred at the Empire including Danny Kay, Morecambe and Wise and
Laurel and Hardy.

But audiences dwindled and the Empire was forced to close in 1959.

Eventually Sunderland Borough Council decided it would be an investment for the town and they put aside £52,000 to buy the theatre.

During the 1960s The Beatles played at the Empire at the bottom of the bill.

The World's greatest ballet dancer, Rudolph Nureyev, began his farewell tour at the Empire in 1991, but it was an unmitigated disaster.

Nureyev was made a laughing stock and so was the theatre.

Today the Clear Channel group is running the place and almost £5 million has been spent bringing the theatre into the 21st Century.

The Empire is booming again as it celebrates its 100th birthday.

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Boxing

Boxing gloves
The gloves are off - expect a big fight from Michael Hunter

Inside Out goes behind the training regime of boxer Michael Hunter from Teesside as he builds himself up for the biggest fight of his life.

He'll be vying for the vacant IBF World Super Bantamweight title in Hartlepool.

His opponent is Canadian Steve Molitor, a fast and tenacious terrier of a boxer.

"I'm greedy, greedy, that's me. Whatever I get, I always want more. I want more and this is the more. This is the World title..."
Michael Hunter

Michael comes to the fight with an impressive pedigree - he's already won the European, British and Commonwealth titles

He has never lost in his six year professional career.

We follow his tough training regime which entails Michael getting down to 8 stone 10 for the championship weigh in.

Back at the gym, we meet his new sparring partner who flown in specially from the Ukraine.

Everything appears to be in place - the talent, the hunger, and the right team of people behind him.

All he needs is a little luck.

Sports writer Niall Hickman goes ringside as Michael fights for boxing's top prize.

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