FEATURE: 20 years of battling for justice
FROM waking up to falling asleep, every minute of Sharon Henderson’s day is a battle to bring those responsible for her daughter’s death to justice.
It was the murder that shook the tight-knit East End of Sunderland.
Seven-year-old Nikki Allan’s body was found in the then-derelict Exchange Building in High Street East, metres from her home at Wear Garth, 20 years ago tomorrow.
Some media coverage and rumours at the time criticised Sharon, a single mother to Nikki, Stacey, eight, Zara, three, and Naomi, one.
It was claimed Nikki had been begging for pennies for the Guy outside the Boar’s Head pub at 10pm on a cold October night and Sharon’s social life was held up for scrutiny.
Sharon openly admits to using drink and prescription drugs as a shield during the raw months and years after Nikki’s death.
But she insists on the night Nikki was murdered, they had gone to visit her grandfather Dickie, where they all lived in the Wear Garth flats overlooking the docks.
At 8.30pm, Nikki set out to walk less than 200 metres down the stairwell and across the short corridor to the family flat.
When her mother came home 10 minutes later, she was nowhere to be seen.
More than 100 shocked Wearsiders and police took part in a search.
Nikki’s shoes and folded-up clothes were found outside the Exchange Building.
Her battered body was inside, lying in a pool of blood, clubbed over the head with a brick and stabbed 37 in the chest and abdomen.
Neighbour George Heron, then 24, was arrested and confessed to Nikki’s murder.
But a six-week trial collapsed after the judge at Leeds Crown Court ruled Northumbria Police had used heavy-handed techniques to interrogate Heron.
Now a grandmother, Sharon has tirelessly fought for justice and vowed to continue her battle until her daughter’s killer is put behind bars.
On the eve of the anniversary of her daughter’s death, she has no intention of backing down.
Along with her surviving daughters now aged 28, 23 and 21, they will pay an emotional visit to Nikki’s grave.
Becoming a grandmother to two girls and watching them grow closer to Nikki’s age has spurred Sharon on to fight.
She said: “I feel sick, because my granddaughter is five.
“If you can’t get any justice then you just get angry.
“It will be emotional tomorrow. Me and my three daughters will go to the cemetery and try to keep it a quiet day.
“I live in a little cul-de-sac.
“It’s really small, with fencing all round and one of my granddaughters stands on the couch and looks out the window and asks why she can’t play out with the other kids.
“She knows about Nikki. She has come in some times and seen my crying and having the police and that here.
“We tell her Nikki has gone to heaven and grandma is trying to find the people who sent her to heaven.”
Sharon has often been at loggerheads with the police over the years, accusing them of leaving her to solve the case and them arresting her as she takes the law into her own hands.
She insists she was first told police did not have the murder weapons, but they have since been found in a police station earmarked for closure, along with some of Nikki’s clothes.
She says she has never seen them, or listened to the five tapes of Heron’s alleged confession which the jury were not allowed to hear.
Bids to have Nikki’s body exhumed have failed, after Northumbria Police refused to take the request to Sunderland Coroner’s Office.
“It would tear me apart,” said Sharon. “But like I said, I would do anything.
“Nikki will not rest in peace until her killer is caught.
“But the police said ‘no way’.
“I find this case so impossible, that you only have one spot of DNA.
“Now I can understand what the scene must have looked like, all the DNA would have been on Nikki’s clothes.
“The police still have her clothes, but I don’t think I could cope with having them.
“I’ve got her little dress, which is all I wanted.
“I wanted to turn up with the police and see everything they have got.
“Over the past years they told me they did not have the knife, now they have got it; they didn’t have the brick, now they have got it.
“A bannister from the building was in a police station that had been shut for 20 years and they found it in a drawer.”
Social networking has given Sharon a new voice, as she drums up worldwide support on the internet.
“Some people had never heard of Nikki Allan, now there was a speech about her at a rally down in London last week.
“It looks as if the police want me to do their job for them.
“They were there all the time when she went missing, but I was on medication all the time.
“But now I’m putting myself through all the memories and the stress again, but this time I’m doing it without medication.
“I don’t want to leave my other three daughters. I don’t want it to take over their lives, but I want them to remember Nikki and talk about her.”
Sharon now believes more than one person was involved in her daughter’s death and that people still living in Sunderland know what happened.
“Now I am on Facebook I have got my say.
“I just want someone to take notice of me,” she said. People know what happened and they are covering it up.
“I’ve just had to build up the strength to fight this challenge. I’ve talked about it for a long time, about there being no DNA.
“I’m willing to do anything at all.
“There are definitely people out there who know something.”
Detective Chief Inspector Paul Young, of Northumbria Police, said: “Unsolved murders are never closed and are regularly reviewed.
“If new information is received or there are new forensic developments these are acted upon.”
In the years following her daughter’s murder, Sharon often appeared in the pages of the Echo.
Marrying twice since, she claimed was stalked by her husband Alan Dunn, who denied the allegations and was never charged.
He married Sharon in April 1994 – 18 months after Nikki was killed.
In 2001, Sharon, then 34, married her 22-year-old neighbour Christopher Henderson in a ceremony at Sunderland Civic Centre.
Her battle with drink and prescription drugs has also been well-publicised.
She said: “I have been bad with the drink for years and years. It is only now I have thought it is going to kill me and I will die without getting justice.
“I still have my off days and just think I am going to get drunk tonight.
“Some people think I am really strong, but they don’t realise I have to go home at the end of the day and I sit and cry.
“I have had all that, that she was doing penny for the guy, that I was in the pub; I have had all sorts.
“It is only now that the press is putting the truth in. The press was listening to people round about.
“I was on that much medication and injections, I can’t really remember half the court case.
“I have to keep going back and over stuff.”