Kate Bushell murder: what happened to schoolgirl killed in 1997 - and latest developments in unsolved case

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Kate Bushell was 14 years old when she was murdered as she walked a neighbour’s dog in 1997

Police investigating the unsolved murder of schoolgirl Kate Bushell are working on 40 new lines of enquiry following an anniversary appeal and a £20,000 reward. The 14-year-old was killed as she walked a neighbour’s dog near her home in Devon.

Earlier this month detectives from the Major Crime Investigation Team renewed their public appeal for information to mark the 25th anniversary of her unsolved murder. They urged anyone who may have previously withheld information to break their silence and help bring Kate’s killer to justice. So far more than 40 pieces of new information have been received from the UK public.

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Senior Investigating Officer Rob Back said: “The response and the interest from the public has been really good so far, with a number of fresh intelligence reports being reviewed by the crime team. However, we are still appealing for that crucial piece of new information.

“We continue to receive a meaningful public response to appeals about Kate’s callous murder, regardless of how much time has passed, and we are thankful to those who have found the courage to come forward on this anniversary. We would urge people to keep the information coming as we desperately want to solve this murder. If you think you may know something which could lead to the identification of Kate’s killer, please contact us. That one piece of critical information may be just what we need.”

The public can report information through the Major Incident Public Portal: Public Portal: Public Portal (mipp.police.uk). A £20,000 reward has been offered by independent charity Crimestoppers for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Kate’s killer.

What happened to Kate Bushell?

The 14-year-old suffered a fatal knife wound to her throat in an attack in fields just 300 yards from her home in Exwick, Exeter, Devon, on 15 November 1997.

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Her father Jerry discovered the teenager’s body in a field off Exwick lane at 7.30pm – around three hours after Kate had left to walk a neighbour’s Jack Russell dog named Gemma.

The killing of Kate, who attended St Thomas High School, is one of the largest and longest-running unsolved murder enquiries run by Devon and Cornwall Police. More than 160 detectives and staff were deployed to the case in 1997, with more than 5,000 house-to-house interviews conducted and over 5,000 DNA samples taken from people in the area. Three suspects have been interviewed and released without charge.

Police investigating the 1997 murder of schoolgirl Kate Bushell are working on 40 new lines of enquiry following an anniversary appeal.Police investigating the 1997 murder of schoolgirl Kate Bushell are working on 40 new lines of enquiry following an anniversary appeal.
Police investigating the 1997 murder of schoolgirl Kate Bushell are working on 40 new lines of enquiry following an anniversary appeal. | SWNS

On the day of the murder, Kate left her home in Burrator Drive to walk her neighbour’s dog at about 4.30pm. She was last seen alive at 4.50pm by a layby near the Whitestone Cross end of Exwick Lane.

Witnesses recalled seeing Kate and Gemma, the dog, but also a small blue car parked in a nearby stables layby with a man standing by it. People also reported seeing a man running in the Farm Hill/Cornflower Hill area of Exwick that evening. He has never been traced.

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At 5.30pm, a small dog believed to be Gemma was seen running loose from a gateway in Exwick Lane at the base of the field where Kate’s body was found. Orange clothing fibres – from a material predominantly used in non-fluorescent workwear such as boiler suits, aprons and gloves – were found on Kate’s body and a nearby country stile. Police have said it is believed the murderer may have lived locally or had links to friends or family in the area as the location of Kate’s murder is not common to people outside the area.

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