A SERIOUS complaint into Durham Police’s handling of the county’s only unsolved murder in the last 70 years has been made in a family’s bid to clear the “lifetime of public suspicion and abuse” – despite the force confirming an active investigation is still in place 32 years on.
In 1990, part-time carer Ann Heron was murdered as she sunbathed in her garden on the outskirts of Darlington in an event that shocked County Durham and the wider UK.
Police initially appealed for a sun-tanned driver of a blue car which was spotted nearby to come forward but, in 2005, her widower Peter was arrested for the killing, but police dropped the charges before they could come to court.
During the 32 years since the murder, the Heron family have been critical of the investigation conducted by Durham Police.
As they prepared for the filming of a documentary to be shown next Tuesday (May 2) on Channel 5, they uncovered evidence that forms the basis of their complaint.
Mr Heron’s daughter, Debbie Simpson, told The Northern Echo: “His family and true friends knew from the moment of his arrest that a terrible mistake had been made and now, after being in possession of the prosecution bundle of evidence against him for over 16 years, we believe we have finally uncovered the truth of the circumstances which led to his arrest and have made a formal complaint.”
The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) said: “We received a referral from Durham Constabulary of a complaint regarding the investigation into the death of Ann Heron.
“After carefully assessing the available information, we directed the force to carry out an investigation.
“Upon conclusion of the investigation, the complainant will have the right of review to the IOPC, which ensures we retain a level of independent oversight.”
The latest comments from Mr Heron’s family are part of their long-running campaign to clear the name of Mr Heron, who was an executive at a Middleton St George haulage firm at the time of the murder.
Mrs Simpson said: “Since the moment of Dad’s arrest, I have fought relentlessly to keep Ann’s case alive and in the public eye in the hope that one day, Durham Constabulary would find her real killer and Dad’s name would be cleared; a hope sadly not shared by some.
“In the face of mounting evidence to the contrary and increasing public knowledge and awareness of the facts, it is inhumane that at the age of 87, Dad continues to live with the finger of suspicion hanging firmly over him through the actions and failures of others.”
In 2016, Teesside private investigator Jen Jarvie took up the case and, as The Northern Echo reported in 2020, identified a potential suspect, Michael Benson, a violent criminal who was on the run at the time of the murder having absconded from a life sentence. He has since died.
Mr Heron said: “I have the utmost respect for our brave police officers who in Durham Constabulary’s own words ‘can make a difference to people’s lives’ but sadly, the actions of a few have brought the reputation of many into question.
“The difference they made to Ann and my family was catastrophic and condemned my three girls to a lifetime of public suspicion and abuse.
“Undeterred, the real difference came not from Durham Constabulary but from Debbie and Jen who, against all the odds, fought tirelessly with all their might for truth and justice for Ann and the time for accountability has now arrived.
“Ann was in the one place she should have been safe, her own home. Instead, she died at the hands of a brutal killer, only to be failed by the very organisation who were there to protect and serve her.”
Despite reservations from the Heron family about the case, Durham Police have insisted that all enquiries remain open for the investigation.
A Durham Constabulary spokesman said: “The murder of Ann Heron has been thoroughly investigated and subject to constant review over the last 32 years, including the use of new investigative techniques with the advancement of forensic technology.
“It is still the ambition of Durham Constabulary to convict the person responsible for Ann’s murder.
“At this time there is no new evidence that identifies new suspects, but we remain open-minded and committed.”