[D]etectives investigating the murder of a young university student 21 years ago have today (Friday, June 16) launched a new appeal for information.
Janet Murgatroyd was just 20 when she was found dead in the River Ribble on June 16, 1996. She had been out with a friend the night before but was attacked as she walked home alone from Preston town centre.
On the 21st anniversary of her death detectives have issued a renewed appeal for information in the hope of finding her attacker.
Det Chief Insp Gary Brooks, of Lancashire Police’s Force Major Investigation Team, said: “Twenty-one years on from Janet’s brutal murder we remain committed to finding her killer.
“Janet was a young woman with her whole life ahead of her. A student at the University of Central Lancashire and a part-time staff member with Lancashire Police, she had much to look forward to and enjoy.
“However, this was all taken away from her in a vicious attack, which we believe was sexually motivated. Janet was left with serious head injuries before being found dead in the River Ribble.
“At the time of the attack Janet was vulnerable. She was under the influence of drink and was walking home alone in the early hours of the morning.
“This was an opportunist offence by a very dangerous man who, despite the passage of time, still needs to be brought to justice.”
During Saturday, June 15, 1996 – the same day as the Arndale Shopping Centre bombing in Manchester and the England versus Scotland match at the Euro 96 football tournament – Janet Murgatroyd had been shopping with a friend in Preston.
Both returned to a flat in Ashton and went back into Preston shortly after, drinking in several pubs.
Later in the evening Janet left The Adelphi pub with a man before leaving him close to Boltons Court.
She was seen asleep on Fishergate outside the entrance to Preston Railway Station and later spotted walking towards Penwortham on Fishergate Hill.
In the early hours of June 16 Janet was seen by a taxi driver being chased by a man across Penwortham Bridge away from town.
A short time later two witnesses walking out of town on Penwortham Bridge described hearing the sound of a female moaning and saw a man crouched down on the bank of the River Ribble by Priory Park car park. Detectives believe this was Janet and her attacker.
Later that day, around noon, Janet’s body was found floating in the River Ribble between the Bridge Inn Pub and the Continental Pub.
Janet’s clothing, with the exception of her jeans, was found on the river bank by Priory Park.
A post-mortem examination gave the cause of death as drowning and head injuries.
Following extensive enquiries detectives arrested a 22-year-old man. He was charged by police before being prosecuted and convicted for her murder in October 2002. However, his conviction was later quashed at the Court of Appeal.
Det Chief Insp Gary Brooks added: “I would like to use the 21st anniversary of Janet’s death to appeal to anyone with information which may assist us to please come forward.
“The date was significant for two reasons. Firstly, the bombing of the Arndale Centre in Manchester and secondly, when England played Scotland in Euro 96. These events may help many people to remember what they were doing 21 years ago.
“The person responsible for Janet’s death will have had this horrific act on their conscience for more than two decades. There has to be a possibility the offender confided in someone or someone suspected they may be responsible due to a change in behaviour around this time. Even if you think the information is insignificant, please come forward so we can investigate.
“We still desperately want to solve this crime and anyone who has information about the murder can contact Lancashire Police or Crimestoppers in confidence.”
Anyone with information can call Lancaster Police on 101.
Alternatively, Crimestoppers can be contacted anonymously on 0800 5555111.