Claire’s killer faces life term

Published: Thursday 11th December 2014 by The News Editor

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A former milkman branded “pure evil” by police could spend the rest of his life in jail after being convicted of killing a schoolgirl in a “frenzied and remorseless” murder more than 20 years ago.

Colin Ash-Smith, 46, stabbed Claire Tiltman from behind as she took a short cut through a dark alleyway to a friend’s house in 1993, just four days after her 16th birthday.

He attended her funeral a month later with his Labour councillor parents wearing the same beige jacket he wore the night of the murder.

Today friends of the murdered schoolgirl wept as her killer was finally convicted at Inner London Crown Court. Blond-haired Ash-Smith stared ahead stony-faced as the jury of seven men and five women gave their verdict after just three hours of deliberation.

Outside court Claire’s friends hugged each other and detectives who had worked on the case as they finally saw her killer brought to justice.

A knife-obsessed loner, Ash-Smith has been in jail since 1996 for stabbing two other young women in brutal attacks that bore the same hallmarks as Claire’s murder.

The judge Mr Justice Sweeney warned Ash-Smith he faced a life sentence. Mr Justice Sweeney said: “The only sentence I can impose upon a conviction for murder is one of life imprisonment.

“However it is also incumbent upon me to form a view as to the length of any minimum term.”

Thanking the jury he said: “This case has obviously been a very demanding case for any jury to have to sit upon. The crimes that you have had to consider are appalling.

“I’m extremely grateful to you for the way in which you have gone about your duties with conspicuous responsibility and consideration from the first to the last.”

Ash-Smith was first questioned as a suspect by detectives in connection with the schoolgirl’s murder in 1995.

But he was only charged earlier this year, the day he was due to be considered for release by the parole board.

Claire’s parents Cliff and Linda have died in the years since her murder in Greenhithe, Kent, on January 18 1993, and questions will be asked about why her killer evaded justice for so long.

Brian Altman QC, prosecuting, said Ash-Smith got a “warped pleasure” out of killing Claire in a “savage” and motiveless attack. He told jurors: “Her assailant had stabbed her no less than nine times in what can only be described as a frenzied and remorseless attack by someone having nothing less than the intention of killing her.

“Make no mistake, this was a killing for the sake of killing, carried out by a ruthless and predatory armed killer, who attacked his chosen victim rapidly and stealthily, allowing her no time for defence or escape, and who fled the scene just as efficiently as he had arrived.”

When officers searched his family home last year they found an edition of a local newspaper marking the first anniversary of Claire’s death, which he had kept as a trophy. A five-week trial heard chilling details of how Ash-Smith killed Claire as part of a “spree” of attacks on females across Kent.

A self-confessed “animal”, he was plagued by a hatred of women who he felt “humiliated” him.

He singled out, stalked and attacked females, and then bragged about them in diaries – giving himself a percentage rating for how “successful” he was.

Speaking in an eerily-calm voice as he took to the witness box, Ash-Smith told how he went on midnight walks armed with knives hunting for victims.

In an attack he later dubbed his “masterpiece”, Ash-Smith attempted to murder and sexually assault a young mother in 1988.

He pounced on her late at night and marched her by gunpoint to a quarry where he gagged and took photos of her in sexual poses. He tried to strangle her with a school tie before stabbing and leaving her for dead. Luckily she survived.

Ash-Smith told jurors he “snapped” and attacked. He added: “I would wait for my mum and dad to go to sleep first and then I would go out. I was 19 or 20.

“That was the first time I started doing it, in 1988. I used to do it quite regularly. I used to call them my midnight walks. I was hoping I would see someone and provoke someone into attacking me.”

Asked why he attacked the woman, he said: “I wanted to feel empowered, that I had control over someone. That I wasn’t a doormat.”

Five years later he attacked Claire as she walked to a friend’s house to talk about college options after finishing her mock GCSEs. In a decision that was to cost Claire her life, the schoolgirl turned down a lift from her friend’s mother and instead walked, taking a detour to buy cigarettes.

But she never made it to her friend’s, and was stabbed in the alley. She staggered to the main road where she collapsed in a pool of blood. Ash-Smith denied killing Claire, who he knew through the local British Legion Club.

He spun police a false alibi claiming to be out at the time leafleting with his mother Diane, a Labour councillor and later the local mayor. Two years later he struck again, dragging Charlotte Barnard, 22, to a disused business premises and stabbing her 14 times just yards from where he killed Claire.

Detectives later discovered Assault Plans written by Ash-Smith in which he told of his “psycho state of mind” and plans to attack women. His lawyers claimed convicted killer Robert Napper, dubbed the Plumstead Ripper, could have killed Claire.

Published: Thursday 11th December 2014 by The News Editor

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