Lothian Murder Files: 'Uncle Paddy' killed young girls out playing on a dark winter's afternoon

IT was a time when children were thought to be safe to go out to play on the streets, a time when few people worried about traffic – or paedophiles.

But four-year-old Lesley Nisbet and her friend, three-year-old Margaret Curran, had only been out playing for 45 minutes one December afternoon in 1953, when Lesley's mother, Jane, started to get nervous that the girls were out of sight. The light was already fading when, along with Margaret's mother, Janet Johnston, she set out from their home at a now vanished block, No 5 Marshall's Court, in Greenside to find them.

It would be another seven hours, after a major search involving neighbours and police , before she saw her only child again – when her daughter's lifeless body was put into her arms.

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The dead girls, both of whom had been beaten around the head, had been found just yards from Lesley's home, behind the blocked door of a shared toilet.

Their killer would also be uncovered close to home – 45-year-old John Lynch, a Dubliner who lived in the same block and who the girls called "Uncle Paddy".

Jane had even seen Lynch earlier during the search – at Moir's Bar beside the Old Theatre Royal at 5.30pm. She'd arranged to meet her husband there when he stopped off for a drink on his way home from his work as a blacksmith. When she broke the news about Lesley to him, the man drinking next to him was Lynch, who told her to calm down and offered her a drink.

Later he declared that if anyone "had done in the children", he would kill them. But when police arrived at his flat shortly after 2am as part of their door-to-door inquiries they found a piece of torn apron cloth which looked identical to the piece around Lesley's neck – she had been sexually assaulted and suffocated, while Margaret had been strangled. A small stain, thought to be blood, was seen on the left sleeve of Lynch's shirt and hair from both girls' heads was found on his clothes

At his trial before the High Court in Edinburgh in March, 1954, the jury were unanimous in finding him guilty. He was sentenced to death by hanging and was executed on 23 April 1954 at Saughton Prison.