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Wednesday, 8 December, 1999, 17:34 GMT
Tell-tale bead trapped killer
Police sealed off the area where Thomas's body was found


The investigation that led the conviction of child-killer Kevan Roberts cost more than 2m and stretched from Norfolk to Hong Kong - but it would all come down to one tiny metal bead.

Despite being a prime suspect almost from the moment 12-year-old Thomas Marshall's body was found, Roberts believed he had, literally, got away with murder.

A lack of witnesses or solid forensic evidence hampered Norfolk police's attempts to pin the crime on him.

Thomas Marshall: Strangled
But he was to be found out by his own lies and a damning piece of evidence he could not have known existed.

When Thomas was found strangled at a well-known gay meeting place in Thetford, police believed they were looking for a killer who had connections with that area and Thomas's home town of Happisburgh.

Roberts' general store was in Happisburgh, but he denied having any links with Thetford.

However, police inquiries established that Roberts was having a homosexual affair with his married cousin, Peter Roberts, who ran a Thetford dairy.

They then found that Peter Roberts had called his cousin on 20 August - the evening before Thomas's death.

Peter Roberts said his cousin had said he could not meet up the next day as he would be out - the first time he had turned down a liaison with him.

When he called the next night to check on Roberts' story, Peter Roberts found he was at home and put the phone down without speaking.

Police knew Kevan Roberts had bought cannabis from a neighbour, saying that he was expecting a visitor on the 21st. Thomas had also gone out that night, but not to visit a teenage friend as he told his parents.

Crucial find

After establishing that Thomas may have been with Roberts, police turned their attention to Thomas's necklace.

They already knew that Thomas had been strangled, probably from behind, with his own bootlace necklace and shirt collar.

When the necklace was found, snapped, on Thomas's body it had two tiny metal beads missing.

Police knew that finding those beads could be vital in discovering Thomas's killer, but a year of searching the area around Thomas's body and in Roberts' vehicles had turned up nothing.

Then, on the day Roberts was arrested, the vital discovery was made.

A metal bead, identical in appearance to those on Thomas's necklace, was found lodged in the u-bend of Roberts' kitchen sink.

But appearance was not enough, police needed to establish it actually came from the same necklace.

International search

Detective Chief Inspector Bill Goreham, who led the investigation, said: "We traced the manufacturers of the necklace that Thomas was wearing. These particular beads were made in Hong Kong.

"It was a matter of finding out how unique these beads were. We sent officers to Hong Kong and tried to find out everything we could about Thomas's necklace.

"It was a very unusual inquiry. I have certainly never been involved in anything like it before. It was amazing how many inquiries could spring from something as simple as a bead."

The investigation established the beads were certainly from the same batch as Thomas's necklace - but there were thousands in that batch.

It was important evidence, but as Roberts' trial began, police were still concerned that they did not have quite enough to establish Roberts' guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

Then, a week into the trial, a new witness came forward.

Roberts' neighbour at the time of the killing, Emma Coleman, read a newspaper report of the trial which told how Thomas's reddish-pink mountain bike had been dismantled before being dumped about three miles from Happisburgh.

She suddenly remembered having once looked through a hole in Roberts' fence and seen him standing in front of an upturned reddish-pink mountain bike with something in his hand.

Mr Goreham said: "That came out of the blue and it was clearly a key piece of evidence."

Together with the bead, and the determination of the police investigators, it was enough to ensure Roberts received a life sentence.

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See also:
08 Dec 99 |  UK
Shopkeeper convicted of schoolboy murder
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