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Ex-soldier, 58, found guilty of schoolgirl's rape and manslaughter 41 years ago.

Byline: Pat Hurst Press Association reporter newsdesk@walesonline.co.uk

AFORMER soldier who violently raped and killed a schoolgirl has been found guilty of her manslaughter more than 40 years later.

Stephen Hough, 58, let another man, Noel Jones, go to jail after killing Janet Commins, 15, in Flint in 1976.

But last year a sample of Hough's DNA was taken by police and fed into their database - and it matched semen samples taken from the body of Janet and stored for four decades.

The jury at Mold Crown Court heard the odds of the DNA being from anyone other than Hough were a billion to one.

He denied even knowing Janet and any wrongdoing, but was convicted by the jury of rape, serious sexual assault, and the manslaughter of Janet following a three-week trial.

Hough, from Flint, was cleared of the alternative charge of murder.

Hough showed no reaction as the foreman of the jury read out the verdicts, while Janet's remaining family sat in the public gallery.

Janet was an only child and her mother, Eileen, her surviving parent, was too upset to come to court.

Outside court, some of Janet's relatives were in tears.

Hough has been remanded in custody and his sentencing hearing will begin on Monday, though it could last more than a day.

"It may be Tuesday before I impose on you the punishment you deserve for the crimes you committed that winter night 40 years ago," Mr Justice Clive Lewis told Hough.

Before Hough was taken down, prosecutor Mark Heywood told the court the defendant has a previous conviction for grievous bodily harm with intent from August 1988 when he was serving in the army in Germany.

He was court-martialed, jailed for five years, and dismissed from the forces. The jury was not told about the conviction during the trial.

North Wales Police is now under investigation over how it handled the 1976 investigation and dealt with Noel Jones at the time of Janet's death.

Outside court, Janet's uncle, Derek Ierston, who identified her body at the time of her death, read a statement, surrounded by other family members.

He said: "On January 7, 1976, my niece Janet Commins was brutally killed and raped in Flint.

"I vividly recall the events surrounding Janet's death and the misery and desperation her loss caused all the family but in particular her parents Eileen and Edward (Ted).

"Unfortunately Ted passed away some years ago following a long illness and is not here today to see justice finally done with the conviction of Hough.

"The difficulty for the family is that he [Hough] has had a life, been married, had children - but he stole Janet's future, taking away the opportunity from Eileen and the rest of the family to see Janet grow, get married, and have her own children.

"Today's verdict cannot bring Janet back to us but hopefully in the weeks and months to come will provide us with some closure.

"I must express the thanks of the family to the prosecuting team and to North Wales Police, particularly DS Iestyn Davies, the senior investigating officer, who has ensured that Eileen and the family have been supported throughout this nightmare and without bias followed the evidence wherever it has led.

"I would also like to thank the community of Flint for their continuing support at this time." Janet's body was found by three schoolgirls playing hide and seek near Gwynedd School.

Jurors at the trial heard the teenager had died as a result of her neck and external airway being compressed and blocked during a sexual assault.

The court heard that Janet's family lived in a bungalow in King Edward Drive, Flint.

On January 7, 1976, Janet made plans to go swimming with her best friend but her mother thought she didn't look very well and told her she couldn't.

The next time her mum, Eileen, looked in on her, she was painting her nails in her bedroom.

Not long after 7pm Janet slipped out of the house unnoticed by her parents but left a note saying she'd be back about 8.30pm.

Janet met her best friend at the swimming baths but left a while later and told her friend she was going straight home.

The trial was told that a boy walking in Coed Onn Road at 8.10pm saw Janet with two boys "laughing and joking".

He thought someone else was there but wasn't sure, the court heard.

A while later Janet knocked for another friend, who didn't come out.

Soon after 9pm Eileen went looking for Janet.

Concern grew at 11pm and she went to the police station to report her daughter missing.

It was about 11.20am on Sunday, January 11, that the girls playing hide and seek came across her body, hidden in bushes on rough ground.

They found a school caretaker and he called the police. A doctor examined her body and confirmed she was dead.

The trial was told that Janet's body had been dragged along the ground legs first and both her shoes were missing.

The waistband and zip of her jeans were unfastened and "no knickers were recovered". Her clothing was also wet.

The trial heard that Noel Jones admitted to the manslaughter of Janet but now claims his confession was not genuine.

He was interviewed but the practice of tape-recording interviews had not been established so a written record was made.

Jones signed and dated two statements admitting he'd raped Janet and, during the struggle, she had died.

He pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to 12 years' imprisonment. He served six years.

CAPTION(S):

<B The body of Janet Commins, 15, who was found under a hedge on a school playing field in Flint in January 1976

<B Noel Jones was originally jailed for the manslaughter of Janet Commins, but was later released

The path leading to Maes y Dre Avenue where Stephen Hough lived. Right, Maes y Dre Avenue

Stephen Hough, 58, was found guilty of schoolgirl Janet Commins' manslaughter
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jul 14, 2017
Words:1008
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