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'Killer' attended Claire's funeral

A knife-obsessed loner jailed for brutally attacking two young women killed schoolgirl Claire Tiltman in a "frenzied and remorseless" murder two decades ago, a court today heard.

Colin Ash-Smith, 46, pounced on Claire from behind as she took a shortcut through a dark alleyway to a friend's house in 1993 just four days after her 16th birthday, it is claimed.

The former milkman murdered the schoolgirl as part of a "spree" of brutal attacks on women in Kent in the late 1980s and 1990s, Inner London Crown Court heard.

And he was photographed at Claire's funeral just a month after he allegedly killed her.

Brian Altman QC, prosecuting, said Ash-Smith killed Claire in a "savage" and motiveless attack because he got a "warped pleasure" out of her murder.

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."

The court heard that Ash-Smith always had a knife with him and carried out similarly brutal stabbings on other women - and plotted more.

He allegedly bragged about his attacks in journals entitled Assault Plans.

In 1988 Ash-Smith, then 20, strangled, stabbed and tried to rape a woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons.

Mr Altman said the woman "had been lucky to survive" the attack.

Five years later he allegedly pounced on Claire, who he knew through family ties with the local Foreign British Legion club.

But Mr Altman said this killing "did not end his spree" and two and a half years later in October 1995 he stabbed Charlotte Barnard just 360 metres away from Claire's murder scene.

He said that like the schoolgirl's murder two years before, the attack was "seemingly motiveless" and "a rare and exceptional event".

Ash-Smith pleaded guilty in 1996 to these other attacks but has always denied Claire's murder.

He was a knife-obsessed loner who kept combat and flick blades, jurors heard.

Mr Altman said: "To those who came into contact with him, he seemed to be a very quiet, shy individual, something of a loner.

"However, he owned and habitually carried a range of weapons, including knives, about which he had an obsessive interest.

"He kept combat or flick type knives, and would often show them off to work colleagues as well as acquaintances."

Claire had been taking her mock GCSE exams, and the evening of her death she left home to visit her friend Victoria Swift to discuss college choices.

But in a decision "that was to cost Claire her life" she took a quick detour to buy some cigarettes.

She never arrived at her friend's and was stabbed to death in an alleyway before staggering out bleeding onto London Road in Greenhithe.

Passers-by rushed to her aid, but she could not be saved and died on her back on the pavement.

The court heard Kent Police launched a massive and long-running investigation to hunt down Claire's killer, but Ash-Smith has always denied her murder.

He was arrested following his attack in October 1995, two years after Claire's death, and jailed.

In 1996 he was questioned and formed part of a formal identification parade aimed to identify Claire's killer.

But he was only charged with Claire's murder earlier this year after cold-case detectives reopened the investigation.

Jurors heard Ash-Smith was the son of former Labour councillor Diane and her husband Aubrey.

His mother doted on him and refused to believe he could do any wrong - even after he was convicted for the other knife attacks, jurors heard.

Mr Altman said: "The defendant was...the golden boy in his mother's eyes who could do no wrong, even those offences of which he was convicted."

But while in prison for the other two attacks he "befriended a fellow prisoner to whom he in effect confessed he was Claire Tiltman's killer", Mr Altman added.

The prosecutor added: "To her killer Claire was a target for a completely senseless slaughter of an innocent young teenage girl, you might think for no better reason than the warped pleasure he derived from attacking a lone woman and the ultimate power and control it gave him."

Claire's parents, Clifford and Linda Tiltman have both died since her murder.

Ash-Smith denies murder. The case was adjourned until 10.30am tomorrow.

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