Claire Tiltman murder: Prosecutors mull charges in notorious English crime

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Friday, January 24, 2014

Almost exactly 21 years after 16-year-old Claire "Tilt" Tiltman was stabbed to death near her Kent, England home, Kent Police have passed a file of evidence to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

We hope to reach a decision as soon as is practicably possible


The case has been the subject of speculation sadistic killer Robert Napper was responsible, but the file is reported to concern longtime suspect Colin Ash-Smith. Wikinews contacted Kent Police and the CPS but neither were willing to confirm how many suspects were covered by the evidence file.

"We have presented a file of evidence to the CPS for their consideration in relation to the murder of Claire Tiltman," said Detective Superintendent Rob Vinson of the Kent Police cold case team in a statement provided to Wikinews. "Claire's murder has been subject to an ongoing investigation by Kent Police who have never given up on justice for Claire."

The CPS gave Wikinews a statement confirming they are "currently considering a file of evidence submitted by Kent Police in relation to the murder". The statement added "We hope to reach a decision as soon as is practicably possible."

Tiltman was stabbed in excess of 40 times in an alleyway in Greenhithe as she took a shortcut to visit a friend. The Dartford Grammar School pupil, who had celebrated her birthday four days before, aspired to be a firefighter and was a familiar face at her local fire station. Her death in 1993 sparked an investigation that amassed over 16,000 documents without success in spite of the fact she was killed between 6:00 and 6:30pm, as commuters returned from work.

Claire was 16 years old at the time of her murder with her whole future ahead of her. That evening someone took that future away

—Detective Superintendent Rob Vinson, Kent Police cold case detective

On Saturday the Justice for Claire campaign group marked the 21st anniversary of the murder. A band played in nearby Dartford and, including a raffle, the event raised over £3,000 for the group, which includes some of Tiltman's friends. Wikinews attempted to contact Justice for Claire but their website is unavailable and previous contact details are no longer valid. Last year they organised a candlelit memorial walk to mark the 20th anniversary.

The victim's parents have both since died. Her mother died of cancer after care at EllenorLions Hospice, one of two beneficiaries of the money raised by Justice for Claire last week. The other was the Fire Fighters Charity. Founding member and friend of Tiltman's Lisa Gribben said "We want to hold onto the amazing memories we have but also create so many more so they can be remembered in a good way and not for what happened [...] The evening is to remember Tilt and her parents for both the amazing friend she was and the wonderful, loving family they all were. [...] Its saddens me that our memories are tarnished because of such evil. Hopefully now when someone reads about Tilt they can read about happier times too."

Claire Tiltman's hometown of Greenhithe as it appears today.
Image: Clem Rutter.

Vinson told local journalists at the time that officers were "absolutely committed" to catching the killer and "actively investigating this case". "Claire was 16 years old at the time of her murder with her whole future ahead of her. That evening someone took that future away."

Colin Ash-Smith is serving multiple life sentences for other attacks on women, including stabbing Charlotte Barnard, 22, in late 1995. The Barnard attack, for which he was convicted of attempted murder two years later, was yards from where Tiltman died. His other crimes include another attempted murder, kidnap, and attempted rape.

His former home in Dartfield, where his parents live, has been searched at least three times by police. The most recent was in September, when forensic officers spent several hours at the building. His father Aubrey received a twelve-month prison term for perverting the course of justice; shortly afterwards his mother was arrested after admitting on TV she asked for a knife to be destroyed during the initial investigation into her son.

Following the latest search of the property Kent Police said "Officers have obtained a large amount of items which will be examined in the coming weeks." The former milkman's father says he's convinced his son did not murder Claire Tiltman.

Robert Napper, meanwhile, has been linked to the crime by criminologists and by former Metropolitan Police constable Vincent Wright. Wright went to an Inspector in 2000 to put forward his case that Napper killed Tiltman and also killed Rachel Nickell in London in 1992. In December 2008 Napper admitted manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility for killing Nickell six months before Tiltman's death. Like Tiltman, Nickell was stabbed more than 40 times.

Wright began investigating after Napper was convicted in the deaths of mother-and-daughter Samantha and Jazmine Bisset, who were killed ten months after Tiltman's death. Samantha Bisset was stabbed 60 times. Wright discovered Napper was freshly released from an eight-week prison sentence for weapons offences when Tiltman died and was a known voyeur. In 1995 Napper admitted raping one teenager at knifepoint and attempting to rape another within eight days of each other in 1992. Wright produced a timeline for the inspector in 2000, and has been in touch with Kent Police as well. In 1998 Operation Enigma, a reexamination of cold murders, suggested the Tiltman and Nickell crimes could be down to the same offender.

A modern view of a path on Wimbledon Common. Rachel Nickell was fatally stabbed on the common by Robert Napper in 1992.
Image: Derek Harper.

"Napper could have been stopped," Wright said after Napper was finally convicted in the Nickell case. "It was down to poor investigatory procedure that he wasn't." The Metropolitan Police lured innocent suspect Colin Stagg into a honeytrap and he was charged with murdering Nickell but later cleared when the case collapsed in court.

Professor David Wilson, a Birmingham City University criminologist, wrote in The Daily Star last March he believes Napper "was probably the murderer of 16-year-old Kent schoolgirl Claire Tiltman in January 1993, and of business executive Jean Bradley, 47, in west London two months later." That month he repeated his theory in his Channel 5 documentary series Killers Behind Bars.

In addition to the "blitz" style of knife assault on Napper's victims, Wilson hypothesised Tiltman was linked to Napper by Napper's regular use of public transport. The Tiltman murder scene is twenty minutes by rail from Napper's former home and her killer is believed to have headed towards a nearby train station.

Dr Laurence Allison, a professor of forensic psychology at Liverpool University, is co-author of a book titled Killer in the Shadows – The Monstrous Crimes of Robert Napper that looks at not just Napper's convictions but also cold cases he may be connected to. In addition to Tiltman and Bradley, Allison identified Napper as a suspect in the death of Penny Bell, stabbed 50 times in west London. All three victims were to the west of Napper's home area and all died within five minutes of train stations.

Allison told Wikinews, "we now know Napper was not sufficiently [investigated over] Rachel Nickell after it was established that he murdered Samantha Bissett", noting "these sorts of murders are so rare that one needs to carefully consider an offender with track record as a plausible and worthy suspect". However, Allison made clear this does not mean Napper is the only viable suspect: "Napper needs to be looked at [but] I wouldn't be so bold as to favour one person over another either."


This article features first-hand journalism by Wikinews members. See the collaboration page for more details.
This article features first-hand journalism by Wikinews members. See the collaboration page for more details.