30 years to day since the murder of his wife, Peter Heron writes an open letter to Durham police calling on them to either clear his name, or rearrest him so he can have his day in court.

FRIDAY, August 3, 1990, was the hottest day in the North-East since records began in the 1930s. The mercury in the thermometers rose to 33C. Car parks melted. Railway tracks buckled. Moors caught fire. Fuel tanks exploded.

And on the outskirts of Darlington, a 44-year-old sunbathing mother-of-three, Ann Heron, was brutally murdered in her isolated garden.

Her killer has never been discovered – it is the only unsolved murder in County Durham since 1952.

Today, on the 30th anniversary of the killing, her husband, Peter, now 85, pleads with Durham police to lift the “life sentence” of suspicion under which he and his family have lived ever since. In an open letter published today in The Northern Echo, he asks them to look at new evidence and to clear his name – and if they can’t do that, to charge him for a second time so that he can have his day in court.

The Northern Echo:

The last photograph ever taken of Ann Heron

“You are innocent until proven guilty, but they never gave me the chance to prove I was innocent,” he said. “I was guilty before I could be innocent.”

Police initially centred their manhunt on the driver, with a suntanned complexion, of a blue car seen speeding from the scene of the crime at Morton Palms, on the A67 which runs from the Morrisons supermarket to Middleton St George. The driver was the centre of their appeal on the Crimewatch television programme in October 1990, and he has never been found.

However, suspicion then fell on Mr Heron, who was the director of a haulage depot in Middleton St George because, although he had an alibi, he had had an affair with a barmaid at Dinsdale golf club.

In 2005, he was arrested and charged with the murder after new DNA techniques were employed. However, the charges were abruptly dropped 12 weeks later when the case was discontinued.

Mr Heron’s letter is a symptom of his family’s frustration at the police’s inability to find the killer.

They have been joined by private death investigator Jen Jarvie who, after four years’ work, has identified a plausible new suspect, as The Northern Echo reported ten days ago.

He is Michael Benson, a violent criminal from Leeds who at the time of the murder was on the run having escaped from a life sentence.

The Northern Echo:

According to a Crimewatch appeal in November 1990, Benson, who died in 2011, had a suntanned complexion and could be travelling anywhere in a stolen blue car.

Mrs Jarvie has linked him to an attack on two women on the riverbank in Durham City on July 18 – two weeks before Mrs Heron’s murder.

Following the Echo’s article, Mrs Jarvie has been approached with information from 1990 which, she says, strengthens the family’s belief that they are on the right lines. However, she is still keen to hear from anyone who might have come across Benson in the County Durham area or who was involved in the riverbank incident on July 18, 1990 – she can be contacted on jarviedis@gmail.com

In response to the letter, a Durham police spokesman said: “Durham Constabulary carried out a major investigation into the murder of Ann Heron and that inquiry has already been the subject of significant review.

“While there is currently no active investigation into Ann Heron’s murder, the case will never be closed.

“We will consider any credible information which is brought to our attention.”

Dear Durham Constabulary,

FINALLY, after 30 long years, thanks to the immense efforts of my family and private death investigator Jen Jarvie, a snippet of the truth surrounding the murder of my wife Ann is slowly emerging.

Now, I invite you to read and respond publicly to these breakthroughs.

After Ann’s death, I kept in touch with you on a monthly basis – when I moved, I gave you my new address and telephone numbers so you could contact me at any time of the day or night.

Until November 2005, my family and I believed that you were doing your absolute best to find the driver of the blue car that was seen fleeing the scene of the crime, and which was at the time regarded as the best clue as to who killed Ann.

But then you arrested me, and it was immediately obvious that our trust in you had been gravely misplaced and that you had wasted the previous 15 years initiating an arrest based on my own DNA which was found on my own wife in my own home.

In February 2006, 12 weeks later, following advice from your QC, you calmly walked away and discontinued the case – but the damage to my reputation and good name had been done, and you handed me and my family a second life sentence.

Ever since then, my daughter, Debbie, has campaigned tirelessly to keep Ann’s case, and my situation, alive.

In 2019, she met the new officer in charge of the case, and he ended their meeting by saying that if she could prove my innocence, you could issue a public statement that I was not involved in the death of my wife. She set about doing just that, using the court prosecution bundle of evidence you gave to my solicitor following my arrest in 2005.

Then, four years ago, local death investigator Jen Jarvie, pictured below, approached us and offered her help free of charge.

The Northern Echo:

The first person she said she would look to investigate was, of course, me, and I didn’t have a problem with that.

Using her passion and expertise, in September 2018, she identified a credible suspect in Michael Benson, a violent criminal who had previously served time in prison for knife crimes against women. He had escaped while serving a life sentence and was on the run at the time of Ann’s murder and was never recaptured until he died in 2011. He featured on the November 1990 Crimewatch appeal, driving a blue car, the month after your appeal on Crimewatch for the driver of a blue car to be found in connection to Ann’s murder.

The same programme a month apart: the same description, the same propensity, the same psychopathy, the same vehicle: why wasn’t he checked out?

When we presented this name to you, your response shocked us to the core. You said that it would be “put on the shelf until the next review in five years”.

Your response to The Northern Echo 10 days ago was very similar: “While there is no current investigation into Ann Heron’s murder, the case will never be closed. Any new information which comes to light will be fully considered and the necessary action taken.”

This gives the people of the Darlington area some insight into the difficulties we have faced over the last 30 years. We feel we have been hitting our heads against a brick wall.

After all these years, does Ann’s life, and the lives of our families, really mean so little?

I so wish you had found the driver of the blue car in 1990 because it is quite possible that you would have solved this, brought justice to Ann and avoided a lifetime of distress for our families.

The Northern Echo:

A reconstruction of the day of the murder

You failed then and you failed me and my family a second time when you proceeded to arrest and charge me based on DNA found on my own wife in my own home – the blue car was now forgotten.

I have been asked many times why we keep this case alive and in the limelight.

It is easy to answer. First and foremost, I want to know who went into my home in broad daylight, armed with a knife, and brutally murdered my wife.

I want you to act now, and rule Michael Benson either in or out of your inquiry.

Secondly, I want you to refer yourself so that there can be a proper and thorough investigation by another force, which would also review the new evidence we have compiled.

And thirdly, I want a public apology, not only for myself but for my family and for those who have stood by me without question all these years to show them that their faith in me was justified.

If you are not prepared to do this, then rearrest me, take me to Crown Court and give me the right to restore my good name once and for all in a court of a law – something you denied me in 2006 when you took the decision to discontinue my trial.

I remain respectfully yours, and I await your public response, as I’m sure do many others.

Peter Heron.