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A.K.A.: "Mad Howard"
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Rape
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: July 29, 1995
Date of arrest: Same day
Date of birth: 1965
Victim profile: Sophie Hook, 7
Method of murder: Strangulation
Location: Llandudno, Wales, United Kingdom
Status: Sentenced to life in prison on July 18, 1996

Howard Hughes (born 1965 in Llandudno, Wales) is a convicted child murderer.

Early life

Howard Hughes was born in Llandudno, North Wales, in 1965, the youngest of four children born to Gerald and Renee Hughes. He had three older sisters, and his father was a wealthy businessman who ran a construction firm. He was born with a genetic disorder which caused him to grow at an abnormally quick rate, and on starting primary school in 1969 he quickly gained a reputation for being aggressive with other pupils.

He was expelled from several primary and secondary schools for violent attacks on other pupils, and at one stage his father offered the headteacher of one private school double fees to keep him on, but the headteacher refused to allow Howard to remain at the school.

Hughes would regularly play truant from school, where he and other tearaways would steal items including bicycles from garden sheds. He would sell stolen bicycles from the garden of the family home. When his parents divorced, he moved into his mother's house.

Involvement in crime

Hughes came to the attention of police in 1981, when at the age of 16 he was arrested for strangling a seven-year-old boy so fiercely that he was rendered unconscious and had to go to hospital. He was convicted of assault, and placed on probation.

After leaving home, he moved into a flat in Llandudno and began a lengthy feud with his female next-door neighbour. He would peer over the fence when she was sunbathing, threatened to 'blow her head off' with a gun, and regularly played loud music.

In 1985, Hughes was briefly admitted to a mental hospital in Northamptonshire but failed to make any real progress. According to a friend, he continued to walk the streets of Llandudno and look up girls' skirts while standing below a footbridge, as well as peering into the dormitory at an all-girls boarding school.

In 1987, he was charged with raping a 14-year-old girl but the case collapsed due to a lack of evidence. By this stage, the local schoolchildren had given him the nickname "Mad Howard".

The Sophie Hook murder

On 29 July 1995, seven-year-old Sophie Hook travelled to Llandudno.

She was allowed to sleep in the back garden in a tent that night with the two other children, both family members. In the morning, Sophie was missing. Her naked body was later found washed up on the beach at Craig-y-Don at just after 7.00am, by a man walking his dog.

Sophie's parents identified her body later that day, and a post mortem revealed that she had been raped and strangled. Hughes was arrested within hours of Sophie's body being found, and he was charged with murder two days later.

The trial

Howard Hughes went on trial at Chester Crown Court on 24 June 1996, charged with abduction, rape and murder.

The jury heard no forensic evidence which linked Hughes to Sophie's death, but they received valuable information from three witnesses. Hughes's father Gerald told the jury that his son had admitted the murder to him shortly after he was arrested and being held in custody at a local police station.

Jonathan Carroll, a 30-year-old thief who was in prison at the time he testified, told the jury that he had seen Hughes carrying a hessian sack along a Llandudno street on the night of Sophie's murder, and that he had caught a glimpse of a body in the sack. A third witness, convicted child sex offender Michael Guidi, testified that Hughes had boasted to him some time earlier that he would like to 'rape a girl of 4 or 5'.

The jury also heard details of the injuries that Sophie had sustained in the attack, many of which had been inflicted before she died. However, there was no forensic evidence to link Hughes to these injuries.

On 18th July 1996, the jury returned a guilty verdict on all three charges against Howard Hughes. The 31-year-old was then given three life sentences by trial judge Mr Justice Curtis, who branded Hughes a 'fiend' and recommended that he should never be released from prison.


On 5 September 1997, the Court of Appeal gave Howard Hughes leave to appeal against his conviction for the abduction, rape and murder of Sophie Hook. Six months later he sparked further outrage by launching a 50,000 compensation claim against the Bryn Estyn children's home, where he claimed he was abused as a child. Two weeks later, the Court of Appeal rejected Hughes's bid to have his convictions quashed.

Hughes's second appeal took place on 4 September 2001, but the Court of Appeal again decided that there were no grounds for his convictions to be quashed. The judges who made the decision also ruled that they would not allow Hughes to further contest his convictions unless any new evidence turned up. Hughes then decided to take his case to the European Court of Human Rights, but has so far yet to do this.

Doubts over Hughes's guilt

There have been some doubts over whether Howard Hughes was actually the murderer ever since he was convicted of the crime in 1996, largely due to the fact there was no more than circumstantial evidence to connect him to the crime at the time of his trial - and no further evidence has turned up since, circumstantial or forensic. This fact did not go unnoticed by local and national press at the time of the murder.

Blunkett's sentencing decision

On 24 November 2002, the then Home Secretary David Blunkett announced that four convicted child murderers would each spend a minimum of 50 years behind bars before being considered parole. Howard Hughes was one of them, the others were Roy Whiting, Timothy Morss and Brett Tyler.

This ruling meant that Hughes would not be considered for release until 2045 and the age of 80, but the Home Secretary's powers of setting minimum terms was stripped within 48 hours as a result of a legal challenge by another convicted murderer who took his case to the European Court of Human Rights.

British National Party controversy

In June 2004, the far right British National Party came under heavy media and public criticism for distributing literature across North Wales featuring an image of Sophie Hook and several other victims of similar murders as part of a leaflet campaign for a return of the death penalty. Gerry Davies, the man who found Sophie's body, spoke of his disgust at the BNP's exploitation of the tragedy and voiced his opinion that it was a "vote loser" for the BNP rather than a "vote winner.


Sophie Hook 7 years old MURDERED

A 7-year-old girl was abducted from a tent on a summer's day and murdered to satisfy a pervert's fantasy, Chester Crown Court was told. Sophie Hook traveled to Llandudno with her family July 29, 1995, intending to celebrate the ninth birthday of one of her cousins with a barbecue and garden party.

During the day the children played around a paddling pool, cooling themselves with a hosepipe and setting up a campfire. Because it was so hot, they wore "little or no clothing". The highlight of the "perfect day" was to spend the night together in the tent, a present from the nine-year-old's grandparents.

But Gerald Elias, QC, prosecuting, said that their movements and laughter were being observed from an adjacent bridle path by Howard Hughes, 31, an unemployed gardener. A thick hedge obscured him from view, claimed Mr. Elias, and from his vantage point he could easily have heard the family's conversations.

"In their innocent play these children, wearing little or nothing, made targets for the depravity he was to home in on later. Doubtless their happy chatter in the garden, their shouting that the tent was to be their bed for the night, gave him all the information he needed to carry out his evil intentions."

Sophie was either led or lured away to her death in the middle of the night. Her body was found on a beach less than a mile away. She had been raped, beaten about the head and strangled. Her attacker, who stripped her of her Winnie the Pooh nightdress, had "almost certainly" broken one of her arms in an act of deliberate violence.

Mr. Elias alleged that, 18 months earlier, Hughes had boasted of wanting to abduct and kill a girl of four or five - preferably by strangling or stabbing her. Hours before the murder he had tried unsuccessfully to abduct another girl, aged six, from a nearby park.

He also alleged that Hughes made a dramatic confession to his father, Gerald, telling him after four fruitless days of questioning by police: "I did it, Dad. I must tell somebody." Sitting in a private room at Llandudno police station, his father told Hughes: "If I'm going to stay in this room I need to know whether you did it or not."

Hughes allegedly went on to describe how he had gone to the garden first during the Saturday afternoon, then returned at around 2am. "I persuaded the girl to go with me down to the beach," he is alleged to have said. "I've been sexually frustrated since 1990.

We went to the sea and the girl started to scream. I put my hand over her mouth and kept it there until she stopped. "I took all her clothes off and threw her body in the sea." Hughes, of Colwyn Bay, Clwyd, wearing a charcoal gray suit and with brown, shoulder-length hair, leaned forward in the dock throughout the prosecution opening.

He denies charges of rape and murder. Mr. Elias told the jury of eight men and four women that Sophie, of Great Budworth, near Northwich, Cheshire, had traveled to Llandudno with her mother, Julie. Mrs. Hook later returned to Cheshire, but the remaining children were so enthusiastic about the tent at the foot of the garden that, by nightfall, Sophie's aunt and uncle, Danny and Fiona Jones, had agreed that Sophie, her elder sister, and their two cousins, could spend the night in it.

Having enjoyed an evening barbecue and played a series of party games, including charades, the children finally settled down to sleep at about 12.30am on July 30. The patio door to the house was left open in case they wanted to abandon the adventure. "It seemed the end to a perfect family day," said Mr. Elias.

"But during that night Sophie was removed from the tent, taken from the garden and subjected to the most appallingly violent physical and sexual assault. She was then manually strangled and her body thrown into the nearby sea. "These atrocities were of such wickedness and depravity that they almost defy belief."

He went on: "The Crown says he was bent on taking and using a young girl for his own sexual purposes. It was, if you like, a fantasy of his which horrifically he was to bring to reality. He had boasted in the past of his liking for girls of four or five, and of his wish to abduct, sexually assault and murder a young girl."

The night began with four children in the tent. But at around 12.20am, Sophie's six-year-old cousin, frightened by talk about ghosts, decided he wanted to sleep indoors. When Mr. Jones checked the remaining three at 12.45am they were all seemingly asleep.

He zipped up the tent and went to bed. Sophie's disappearance was not detected until 8.15am. At first she was thought to be hiding. Later, alerted by the fact she had left behind her favorite cuddly toy, Blankies, Mr. Jones reported her absence to police.

By then her body had already been discovered. Whoever murdered the child would have needed resourcefulness and cunning to spirit Sophie away from the garden, kill her, dispose of the body, and conceal her clothes. Hughes possessed both qualities, he said.

The defendant was arrested the afternoon following the murder. In the ensuing four days he consistently denied any involvement in Sophie's death - until his alleged confession to his father. Mr. Elias said Hughes's own description of his route home enabled police to find Sophie's knickers and nightdress.

Later, during a search of his home, officers found a collection of girls' underwear hidden in a stone wall. The Crown rejected any suggestion that Sophie had accompanied him willingly. "As any parent will know, one can lift a sleeping child without instantly waking that child.

Perhaps the first conscious thought they have is that their mother or father is lifting them up." By the time she might have realized this was not so, it would have been too late. Mr. Elias alleged that Hughes left Sophie's body in the sea as a deliberate means of erasing scientific evidence that might link him to her murder.

In the event, he made the mistake of failing to dispose of her clothes - perhaps because he hoped to retrieve them later. Chemical traces found on these items had been identified as similar to those in a jar of Jungle Formula recovered from his home. Scientific tests on Hughes's denim jacket, jeans and shoes could not be carried out because they had been washed, apparently by his mother, Renee, shortly after his arrest.

However, the herringbone pattern on two pairs of shoes matched a print on a rhubarb leaf in the Jones's garden. At an identity parade on Aug 2, he allegedly began shaking, telling another man in the line-up: "You won't like what I've done."

Mrs. Hook, 35, said in a written statement: "Because it was such a lovely day Sophie took her clothes off and was running around wearing just her knickers. "I went about 4pm after they cut the birthday cake and sang 'Happy birthday'. The children waved goodbye."

She and her husband, Chris, identified their daughter's body the following day. Mr. Hook, 38, said he and his wife had instilled in Sophie the importance of not going with strangers. He told police: "She was wary of people she didn't know and I can't believe she would willingly go away from Danny's house, let alone from the garden."

Howard Hughes might never have been convicted of Sophie Hook's murder had it not been for the confession he made to his father. After the verdict was announced, Det. Supt Jones praised Gerald Hughes, saying: "He is a man of honor who did a very brave thing. He must have searched his conscience for a very long time, but he came up with the right answer."

His son, Howard, had successfully stonewalled detectives for nearly 94 hours, even though hundreds of witness statements pointed to him as the culprit. But, in the absence of DNA evidence, they could not persuade the Crown Prosecution Service to proceed.

Then, in a glass-fronted room on the ground floor of Llandudno police station, Hughes, 31, took his father, a businessman, to one side and whispered: "Dad, yes, I did it. Dad, I've got to tell someone." Out of sight of detectives, he went on to recall how he had seen Sophie and the other children playing around the tent from which she later disappeared.

He had, he told his father, invited one of the girls to go with him, but she had refused. He returned at 2am, persuaded her to leave the tent, and walked with her to the beach. When Sophie began to scream he put his hand over her mouth.

After her final breath he threw her naked body into the sea and discarded her clothes in bushes on his way home. Mr. Hughes, who knew Sophie's family, had gone to the police station "hoping against hope" that his son was innocent. His confession came as a shattering blow.

In a state of turmoil, he asked whether he had sexually assaulted the little girl. Again, there was instant confirmation. Father and son then studied a map to trace the route Hughes had taken home. Their conversation was then interrupted by the arrival of one Hughes's sisters, Heather.

"Involuntarily, I said to her, 'He did it. He's just told me he's done it'. She went over to him and started to question him. I said, 'There's no point going over it again. He's done it'." When Mr. Hughes emerged from the room he was asked to make a statement but refused.

A few minutes later he told a detective in the exercise yard: "I will tell you this and this only - that if Howard is involved, this is the route by which he went home." Mr. Hughes then went home and eventually called a family conference with his daughters, Karen, Heather, and Lauren, a dance instructor who had come from Paris. Later that day he told police of his son's confession.


A pedophile who murdered Sophie Hook after abducting her from a tent in her uncle's garden was given three life sentences at Chester Crown Court. Police had been aware of Howard Hughes's sexual deviance for 15 years before he killed seven-year-old Sophie.

But they had been unable to secure convictions against him because the parents of his young victims were reluctant to allow them to testify. In the two-and-a-half years before his arrest, Hughes, 31, had allegedly attacked or threatened at least five girls. A day before Sophie disappeared from the house in Llandudno, north Wales, he is suspected of having tried to abduct a six-year-old girl but was not charged.

After the unanimous verdicts, the jurors were told that Hughes had been charged with raping a 14-year-old girl nine years ago. That charge will be allowed to lie on the file. Passing sentence, Mr. Justice Curtis said the case represented "a clarion call" for immediate steps to improve protection for children. He told Hughes: "You are a fiend and your crimes are every parent's nightmare come to pass.

My recommendation, bearing in mind your appalling crimes and the risk you pose to young girls, is that you are never released." Hughes, convicted six hours after the jury began its deliberations, was still protesting his innocence as he was led away.

He mouthed to the press gallery: "I didn't do it." Sophie's parents were too distressed to attend court. Her uncle, Danny Jones, from whose garden she disappeared, began crying as Hughes was led away. The judge said it was obvious that Hughes had been assaulting and spying on young girls.

Yet there appeared to be no statutory system that would have enabled professionals to supervise him. He hoped that the Home Office would act immediately upon his recommendation, "so that perhaps Sophie Hook will not have died entirely in vain."

Hughes came to police attention in 1981 when he assaulted a seven-year-old boy, for which he was given a two-year supervision order. In the ensuing years he was interviewed about many allegations. He was said to have made indecent suggestions to a four-year-old and tried to rape a 15-year-old.

However, in some cases parents declined to pursue their children's complaints. In others it was decided that there was insufficient evidence against Hughes, an unemployed gardener, who lived with his mother in Yerburgh Avenue, Colwyn Bay.

Sophie's murder on July 30 last year came 18 months after Hughes had told another pedophile of his wish to have sex with a girl and murder her. The detective who led the investigation insisted that police could have done nothing more to apprehend Hughes before the murder.

Det. Supt Eric Jones said: "Everything that could have been done was done." The Home Office said later that the issue of tighter supervision for pedophiles was under consideration. Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, announced plans to give probation officers a role in supervision of offenders on release from prison.


Sophie Hook, the victim.



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