DNA evidence helps solve 35-year-old Lancashire murder case

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DNA evidence has led to the closure of a 35-year-old murder case involving the death of Preston woman Joan Mary Harrison.

Joan (26), a mother of two, was brutally murdered on November 20th 1975 in a derelict garage in Berwick Road in the Avenham area of Preston.

Despite police effort over the years, the case has remained undetected until now

Advances in forensic techniques have allowed the interpretation of DNA found at the original scene to reveal sufficient evidence that would have led to Christopher Smith, from Leeds, who died in 2008, aged 60, being charged with murder.

Over the years the case attracted significant public attention because of its (subsequently disproved) associations with the Yorkshire Ripper inquiry

Det. Chief Supt Graham Gardner, for Lancashire Constabulary, said: “This has been a long running and complex homicide inquiry. Joan lost her life in a most brutal way and despite the enormous efforts of all those originally involved, no charges were ever brought.

“Advances in DNA interpretation over the years has finally allowed us to identify Smith as the man at the scene of Joan’s murder. That fact, coupled with other evidence we have gathered over recent months, has been sufficient to convince the Crown Prosecution Service Smith would have been charged with her murder, had he been alive today.”

Investigations into Smith’s life revealed a violent individual with a string of criminal convictions ranging from assault to theft to sexual attacks.

Joan’s family have been made aware of the development and are being offered support.

Det Ch Supt Gardner added: “It is with some regret Smith is not still alive to stand trial for his crime. One can only try to imagine the sadness endured by Joan’s family over the years and I hope this development will finally bring some closure surrounding their tragic loss.”

John Dilworth, of CPS Lancashire and Cumbria Complex Casework Unit, said: “I have reviewed the evidence carefully and have advised Lancashire Police this recent development has revealed evidence that would have been sufficient to prosecute Christopher Smith, if he were alive. We cannot prejudge the outcome of a trial. However, had Mr Smith lived, my decision would have authorised the police to begin the legal process by charging him.

“The CPS agreed to look at the evidence on a deceased suspect because of the very exceptional circumstances of this case.”