An investigation into the murder of two 11-year-old boys, John Greenwood and Gary Miller, has been reopened after 36 years, Merseyside Police have confirmed.

A fresh appeal for evidence was made after an investigation by Sunday Times reporter, Josh Boswell, apparently provided the police with new lines of enquiry.

The boys were attacked on 16 August 1980 and left for dead under a mattress on a rubbish tip in their home village of Whiston.

Their badly beaten bodies were discovered by a dog walker who went to investigate after seeing a man behaving oddly before walking away. Though the boys were still alive when the dog walker discovered them, they both later died in hospital.

Speaking on behalf of the Greenwood and Miller families, Greenwood's sister Deborah Lewis said: "Losing the boys in such an horrific way was devastating.

"The fact that no-one has been convicted for their murders has made it so much harder," she added, urging those with any information to come forward.

"They were two little boys who went out to play and they never came home… search your consciences and ask yourself: what if it was my child, or grandchild?" she said.

Local man John Cheeseman was tried for the murders in 1981, but was acquitted. Cheeseman had been 20 years old, but with a mental age of around 10, after an accident as a young child left him with brain damage.

Cheeseman came under suspicion after initially lying about his alibi to police, and later confessed to the murder of both boys in an interview with officers originally investigating the case. He also told police about as yet unknown details about how the murders were carried out.

However, at his trial the police investigation was heavily criticised and the confession was deemed to have been unlawfully taken due to the absence of an appropriate adult and the length of time over which Cheeseman was interviewed.

Ultimately, he was found not guilty by a jury who deliberated for just 45 minutes.

Despite a lack of forensic evidence linking Cheeseman to the scene, police believed they had found the right man. With no other lines of inquiry, the investigation was not revisited until 2008 sometime after the rules around double jeopardy changed, by which point much of the original evidence had been lost or destroyed.

With Boswell having uncovered new information, Detective Chief Sargent Paul Richardson, who criticised the original investigation, said Merseyside Police were "committed to helping the family try to get the justice they deserve".

Making a fresh appeal for witnesses, he said investigators were "particularly interested in talking to anyone who may have seen a man with three young boys, aged between 12-14 years, near to the church hall on Dragon Lane, Whiston, between 6.45pm BST and 7.20pm on Saturday, 16 August, 1980.

"Two of the boys who were seen with the man were stood on the wall of the church hall and one was in the grounds of the church hall. Were you one of the three boys?" he said.

Anyone with information should contact Merseyside Police on 0151 709 6010.