Detectives probing the unsolved murders of two 11-year-old boys want to quiz their original suspect from 40 years ago for a second time – but they are legally not allowed.
The killings of childhood friends John Greenwood and Gary Miller shocked the nation on August 16, 1980 after they were found severely beaten and dumped on a rubbish tip in Whiston.
The murderer remains at large four decades later, but in a dramatic new twist, police are desperate to re-question John Cheeseman.
Then 20, he was put on trial in 1981 for both tragedies, but was acquitted after serious criticisms were levelled at Merseyside Police over how they obtained his confession.
Nobody else has ever been charged over the boys’ murders, which saw their badly injured bodies hidden under a mattress on the disused colliery site.
Now, armed with new evidence, police are keen to arrest Mr Cheeseman again and ask him about the killings.
But due to the current double jeopardy law, officers are prohibited from doing so after that move was barred by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
Detectives went to the top London lawyer last March, but it was deemed their newly-compiled evidence was not “compelling” enough.
That has frustrated senior figures within Merseyside Police, who today, in a rare move, announced they were urging for a change in the double jeopardy law.
That campaign was begun by John and Gary’s grieving families who described the current legislation as “ridiculous and outdated”.
Mr Cheeseman, from Prescot, had learning difficulties, and was said to have the mental age of a 10-year-old after an accident as a young child left him with brain damage.
But there was no appropriate lawyer or guardian during his interviews, and the questioning was said to be arduously long, without a suitable amount of breaks.
Both failings were glaringly exposed at court and, subsequently, the jury took just 45 minutes to acquit him of both murders.
Merseyside Police recently apologised for those blunders, and they are hopeful of another chance to quiz Mr Cheeseman about his suspected involvement in John and Gary’s brutal deaths.
He is believed to still be on Merseyside.
He has always denied any accusation in regards to the schoolboys murder.
Debbie Greenwood, John’s sister, is leading a social media campaign and has launched an emotive online petition asking for support.
She wrote: “Double jeopardy laws were introduced in England over 800 years ago.
“Just think how much has changed in 800 years?
“We even had the death penalty back then…isn’t it time we made another change?
“Isn’t it time to scrap this ridiculous, outdated law once and for all and allow officers to requisition an acquitted person when their investigation leads to it…
“My brother John and his friend Gary, both aged 11, were brutally attacked and left to die, bleeding and hidden under rubbish in 1980…
“…our families have suffered many, many years of pain and frustration.”
“…the double jeopardy law is still preventing us from getting the justice that we so desperately need.”
The boys were found on the rubbish tip by a dog walker who spotted a man with swept back dark hair and wearing a brown jacket acting suspiciously at the site, now covered by Stadt Moers Park.
They were taken to Whiston Hospital but both died as a result of head injuries.
After leaving John’s home on Raleigh Avenue, the boys had walked across the car park of what was then the Horseshoe pub, crossed Windy Arbour Road and went behind Whiston Labour Club.
Witnesses saw them heading towards the entrance of the rubbish tip through a hole in the fence.
This was the last time they were seen alive.
In 2017, Merseyside Police’s cold case review team investigated the murders once more after a national newspaper journalist helped to uncover new evidence.
Detectives issued four separate appeal points which the ECHO understands remain active today.
Firstly, two boys are thought to have been attacked a month before the killings. A witness had claimed they had seen those boys, then aged between 10 and 15, being attacked by an older man outside Whiston Health Centre.
Secondly, another boy is believed to have run up a garden path in nearby Halsnead Avenue calling for help about two weeks before the murders.
Next, a man was seen with three young boys, aged between 12 and 14 years, near to the church hall on Dragon Lane, Whiston, between 6.45pm and 7.20pm on Saturday, August 16.
Two of the boys who were seen with the man were stood on the wall of the church hall and one was in the grounds of the church hall.
Police want to talk with anyone who was at Halstead Junior School with the boys in 1980, or members of the 28th St Helens (1st Whiston) Scout Group.
Finally, officers wish to speak to a boy called “Duffy” or “Cuffy” – thought to have been with the boys shortly before the murder, who owned a yellow chopper push bike.
He has never been traced.
It is believed the boys in each alleged sighting could refer to both John and Gary.
And police, who issued a public apology last May to John and Gary’s families, suspect the man mentioned in the separate scenarios may be the same person.
Chief Constable Andy Cooke described the force’s past probe as “inadequate” and “not as thorough as it could have been”.
Assistant Chief Constable Ian Critchley spoke with the ECHO on Friday, and he again issued an appeal for those with information to come forward and help.
He said: “We have reviewed the case and undertaken further investigation.
“Clearly, it’s so important, to lose two 11 year-olds is tragic and traumatic, and it remains with those families and shapes their lives forever, but to not have somebody brought to justice makes it such an important case.
“We appeal to anyone who has new evidence that can help with our investigation to bring justice to John and Gary’s family to come forward.
“We support the family’s calls for a change in the double jeopardy law.
“We’ve met with the DPP and I respect their role and him meeting with us and the family to explain the legislation and how it is applied and interpreted.
“And in hearing that we believe the only way to progress is that is for an amendment to the current act.”
“The dialogue is ongoing and the families are working with us and a member of Parliament in relation to seeking to petition for legislative change.”
Anyone with information is asked to contact investigators on 0151 777 3100, or the independent Crimestoppers hotline on 0800 555 111
To sign the petition please click here