Convicted child killer Robert Black dies in prison

SERIAL child killer Robert Black has died in a high-security prison, aged 68.
Child killer Robert Black. Picture: TSPLChild killer Robert Black. Picture: TSPL
Child killer Robert Black. Picture: TSPL

The Northern Ireland Prison Service confirmed an inmate had died, and there were no suspicious circumstances.

Black, originally from Grangemouth, was serving 12 life sentences for the murders of four schoolgirls in the 1980s.

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In 1994, he was found guilty of three unsolved child murders dating from the 1980s – Susan Maxwell, 11, from the Borders, Caroline Hogg, five, from Edinburgh, and Sarah Harper, 10, from Morley, near Leeds – as well as a failed abduction attempt in Nottingham in 1988.

How the Edinburgh Evening News reported his conviction in 1994. Picture: Ian GeorgesonHow the Edinburgh Evening News reported his conviction in 1994. Picture: Ian Georgeson
How the Edinburgh Evening News reported his conviction in 1994. Picture: Ian Georgeson

A Northern Ireland Prison Service spokeswoman said last night: “The Prison Service has confirmed that a 68-year-old prisoner has died at Maghaberry Prison.

“While this is not being treated as suspicious, the Prison Service has informed the PSNI, coroner, and prisoner ombudsman.”

Susan lived on her family’s farm near the village of Cornhill-on-Tweed in north Northumberland.

How the Edinburgh Evening News reported his conviction in 1994. Picture: Ian GeorgesonHow the Edinburgh Evening News reported his conviction in 1994. Picture: Ian Georgeson
How the Edinburgh Evening News reported his conviction in 1994. Picture: Ian Georgeson

On Friday 30 July, 1982 she arranged to play tennis with a friend who lived two miles away, just over the Scottish Border in Coldstream. She got a lift there but persuaded her mother to let her walk back. She was seen crossing the bridge over the River Tweed back into England on her way home, but then vanished.

Two weeks later, her body was found 264 miles away lying in a ditch at a roadside lay-by just outside Uttoxeter in the Midlands.

Black had been travelling between Edinburgh and Newcastle on the day Susan vanished. He would usually return to London through the Midlands.

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Caroline, from Portobello, Edinburgh, was allowed out to play for five minutes in the school grounds opposite her house on the evening of Friday 8 July, 1983. Her mother went to call her in after about half an hour, but there was no reply.

A boy had spotted Caroline on the swings in a play park she was not allowed to go to. The child also noticed a “scruffy looking man” sitting on the promenade watching her. Another child had seen her walking towards Portobello’s funfair hand-in-hand with a man.

Ten days later, again in the English Midlands, Caroline’s decomposed and naked body was found.

Sarah lived in Morley in greater Leeds. On the evening of 26 March, 1986 she was sent on an errand to a shop by her mother. She was last seen in an alleyway on her way home.

Three-and-a-half weeks later, her body was found in the River Trent at Wilford, near Nottingham. She had been subjected to a violent sexual assault.

Black’s reign of terror came to an end in 1990 when he was caught red-handed by police with a barely alive six-year-old girl hooded, bound, gagged and stuffed in a sleeping bag in the back of his van in the village of Stow in the Borders. He had sexually assaulted her moments earlier.

Black later described that date – Saturday 14 July, 1990 – as the day “the roof fell in”.

He had approached another girl in the village an hour beforehand, only to be scared off by her dog.

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Initially he said nothing as the little girl was recovered from the van, but as he was driven to a police station, he started recounting the events of the day in chillingly understated fashion.

“What a day it’s been,” he said. “It was a rush of blood. I’ve always liked young girls since I was a young kid.”

In 2012, he was found guilty of the 1981 murder of Jennifer Cardy, nine, from Ballinderry, Co Antrim. She was snatched as she cycled to a friend’s house in the village.

Black was in Northern Ireland to deliver posters for an advertising campaign. Detectives trawled 560,000 old fuel receipts and eventually found the one that proved crucial in Black’s conviction.

He was also suspected of involvement in other killings and disappearances.

He had long been the prime suspect in the case of missing Genette Tate, 13, who was last seen in a rural lane in Aylesbeare, Devon, in 1978. No trace of the newspaper delivery girl has ever been found. All that remained at the scene were her bike and scattered newspapers.

Black was put up to be fostered soon after he was born in 1947. The couple that took him in were in their 50s and lived in Kinlochleven in the West Highlands. Within 11 years both had died, and Black was placed in a children’s home in Falkirk.

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He claimed his desire to self-abuse and his fascination with young girls had already developed well before then.

In Falkirk his proclivity for sexual violence emerged when, aged 12, he was accused of trying to rape a young girl. No charges came of it, but Black was moved to an all-boys’ home in Musselburgh as a result.

When he turned 15, Black left the home in Musselburgh and moved west again, to Greenock. A year later, in 1963, he faced the courts for the first time after molesting a seven-year-old girl in an abandoned air raid shelter.

He was not jailed for the crime, receiving only a caution for lewd and libidinous behaviour.

Black then relocated back to Falkirk where he started dating his one and only girlfriend. Black asked her to marry him but she turned him down and the relationship ended acrimoniously.