IT was innocence that led to death.

Charlotte Billimore suffered a tragic start in life that was to be brutally cut short. She lost her parents to the ravages of smallpox and was placed by the vicar under the care of her uncle and aunt, Henry and Elizabeth Ford, who lived in the same village.

It was there she thrived, possessing an intelligent and interesting character with a mild and innocent manner.

Sadly it was that naivety that led to the eight-year-old being slaughtered, her mutilated body dumped in a copse about 60 yards from the lane linking her school and home about a mile away.

The unlikely killer remained at large for several days but his eventual committal for trial forms what is almost certainly the oldest prosecution brief in existence in Hampshire. Held by Mr Missing who had been instructed for the sum of five guineas, it is kept at the Hampshire Records Office in Winchester.

Charlotte, who was just eight, always wore a colourful bonnet and carried a wooden basket containing her dinner prepared by her step parents who lived in the hamlet of Mortimer West End on the Hampshire/Berkshire border.

It was November 8, 1830, and she had been walking with other young girls before they stopped to chat to neighbour Ann Taylor about a shawl. When her companions were called indoors, she scampered off down the lane.

But as darkness fell, she had not returned home. Amid mounting concern about her safety, a search began - with no happy ending.

Beside her body lay a major clue, bread and cheese, which extraordinarily was overlooked.

Because of her horrific injuries, initial suspicion fell on local surgeon Robert Byles who endured an appalling reputation, regarded as having "a very low and limited practice and of the most dissolute habits, being in a state of intoxication for several days together."

Certainly, it seemed the authorities had found the killer.

Unable to account for his movements that day, he was arrested and grilled by the local coroner. His seemingly hopeless situation appeared all the worse after blood was found on his boots and a bloody footstep of similar appearance had stained Charlotte's dress.

However, the case against him fell apart after tests conclusively proved his footwear could not have left the impression and he was released.

The hunt went on, for days without a breakthrough - but then as now, money talked.

The not inconsiderable sum of £100 for information leading to a conviction was announced by the parish officers and the local vicar at Charlotte's inquest, and a key witness emerged.

The appropriately named farmer's wife, Mrs Ham, reported she had been suffering from toothache and sat down under a hedge for a few minutes respite on her way to Pamber some two miles away.

Hearing the sound of approaching footsteps, she saw Charlotte - but she was not alone. She was in the company of a man she did not recognise but her description matched that of Thomas Ford who was the aunt and uncle's nephew. That very morning, she had given him some bread and cheese.

Miles, vaguely aged between 20 and 30 in press reports, was described in the brief as "being of a very inferior intellect, almost an idiot. He has nevertheless evinced on many occasions considerable ingenuity, especially in mischief and upon his passion being excited, has exhibited much cunning and depravity."

Miles was looked after by the parish but could find work if and when he pleased, often retained as a keeper and driver of cattle.

Though he had been seen in the vicinity of the copse, the case against him was at best circumstantial but though evasive at first, he soon confessed to killing Charlotte, giving by way of explanation: "It came over me to do it as things sometimes do."

Miles was committed for trial at Hampshire Assizes, charged that he 'feloniously, wilfully and of his own malice aforethought killed and murdered Charlotte Billimore,' but not surprisingly the case never reached there.

Examined by doctors in Winchester Jail, he was found incapable of understanding the nature of the charge, and on July 31, 1831, was ordered to be detained at Lainston House, near Winchester, then a lunatic asylum.

But why had he murdered Charlotte?

Humiliation and jealousy appear the motives.

He had sought revenge against local schoolchildren who had mercilessly taunted him about his mental and physical inadequacies. It also transpired he often went to his aunt and uncle for titbits and feared increasingly losing out to the popular Charlotte in what was essentially a poor but honest household.