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Justice at last for murdered Claire

A "predatory armed killer" has been found guilty of murdering a schoolgirl - 19 years after he was first questioned by police on suspicion of killing her.

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 was branded "pure evil" by police and could spend the rest of his life in jail for the "frenzied and remorseless" murder.

Ash-Smith was questioned as a suspect in 1995, after he confessed to stabbing Charlotte Barnard, 22, yards from where Claire was murdered.

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

Claire's devoted parents Cliff and Linda have both died in the two decades it has taken to see justice served. And questions will be asked about why her killer evaded justice for so long.

A knife-obsessed loner, Ash-Smith was jailed for life in 1996 for stabbing Ms Barnard and attempting to rape and murder another woman in 1988.

In highly emotional scenes, Claire's friends wept and hugged each other as her killer was finally convicted at Inner London Crown Court.

Blond-haired Ash-Smith stared ahead stoney-faced as the jury of seven men and five women gave their verdict after just three hours of deliberation.

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

The Tiltman family said Claire's parents were left heartbroken by her murder in Greenhithe, Kent, on 18 January 1993.

Claire's uncle Roger Tiltman said the stress and heartache of her death drove her parents to early graves.

In a victim impact statement he said: "When Claire was killed it was the end of their lives as far as they were concerned, and they seemed to lose the will to live.

"All their hopes and dreams of Claire growing up, getting married and having children all disappeared with Claire's death."

Brian Altman QC, prosecuting, said Ash-Smith got a "warped pleasure" out of killing Claire.

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 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 at a quarry in 1988.

Luckily she survived. Ash-Smith told jurors "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 mum and instead walked, taking a detour to buy cigarettes.

But she never made it to her friend's, and was stabbed in the alley. A month later Ash-Smith went to her funeral in the same beige jacket he killed her in.

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, stabbing Ms Barnard 14 times in an attack that bore many of the same hallmarks as Claire's murder.

But this time he was seen near the crime scene and quickly arrested and jailed.

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