I was the only member of the public present yesterday as evil and sadistic child killer Robert Black was cremated in Belfast after a Christian funeral service which prison authorities had desperately tried to keep secret.
A prison chaplain, two crematorium staff and an undertaker were the only other people inside the tiny church at Roselawn crematorium as the depraved monster's body was wheeled inside from the back of a black Mondeo car with its back seats folded down.
The sick serial murderer's body was in a cheap wooden coffin and there were no flowers and not a single mourner to grieve for Black who died from natural causes earlier this month in Maghaberry prison near Lisburn.
The PSNI and Prison Service had tried to find someone, anyone related to Scots-born Black who would take responsibility for his funeral.
But hardly surprisingly, no one wanted anything to do with the 68-year-old paedophile who was serving 12 life sentences for the kidnap and murder of four young girls including the horrific slaying in 1981 of schoolgirl Jennifer Cardy from Ballinderry in County Antrim.
For days, amid mounting criticism and calls for as little money as possible to be spent on the funeral, prison officials tried to work out what to do with Black's body but they also went to extraordinary lengths to stonewall Press inquiries about their plans.
They consistently refused to disclose if a service had already been held for the notorious killer; if his remains had been taken from the province; or how much it would be costing them to fulfil their obligations under prison rules to give him a funeral.
Ukip Assemblyman David McNarry condemned the authorities' silence as "outrageous".
Yesterday they were still playing a macabre game of cat and mouse with the Belfast Telegraph who had been tipped off that Black would be cremated outside normal hours at Roselawn where the funerals of some of Northern Ireland's most ruthless terrorist killers have taken place.
Noticeboards inside the neat red-bricked crematorium, which is only a few hundred yards away from the last resting place in Roselawn's cemetery of Man United and Northern Ireland soccer hero George Best, gave no clue that there was going to be a service for Black.
The last cremation is normally held at 4pm but inside the Roselawn café the word was that an extra service had been added for 5pm though no one had any idea about the identity of the deceased, and certainly there was no inkling that it might be the detested Robert Black who some former police officers believe may have killed up to 16 helpless girls.
Mourners leaving the 4pm service were appalled to learn that Black's body was being brought to Roselawn.
"I hope he burns in hell," said a relative of a man who had just been cremated.
At one point Roselawn staff drove up in a van and told me and cameraman Kevin Scott that we would have to leave as the cemetery and crematorium closed at 4pm and when we refused they threatened to "make whatever arrangements were necessary" but they didn't specify what they might be.
Shortly afterwards, the lights inside the crematorium church were all turned off, presumably to give the impression that the day's business had been completed.
But just before 4.40pm the lights were switched on again and an official who it's understood had consulted with his superiors on Belfast City Council who run the crematorium, came outside to say we didn't have to leave Roselawn and he confirmed that Robert Black's body would be arriving soon.
Any thoughts that it might be escorted to the crematorium by police were quickly dispelled as the black Mondeo which might normally be expected to carry bereaved family members drove quickly up to the front entrance of the crematorium on its own.
And within seconds Black's simple coffin was unceremoniously loaded from the back onto a silver coloured trolley.
Crematorium staff were told by one of their bosses not to stop me attending the service but no cameras were allowed inside.
Two employees briefly bowed their heads as Black's coffin was brought to the front of the non-denominational church where the Presbyterian chaplain of Maghaberry prison, the Rev Rodney Cameron - who was wearing a suit, collar and tie - was clearly shocked to see me taking a seat in the back row.
Standing beside Black's coffin, Mr Cameron said: "I have to be honest, I didn't expect there would be anyone else other than myself and staff here."
He added that "we" were gathered for the cremation of Robert Black and he read a passage from Psalm 90, a prayer from Moses to God which included the verses, "We are consumed by your anger and terrified by your indignation. You have set our iniquities before us, our secret sins in the light of your presence. All our days pass by under your wrath, we finish our years with a moan."
Mr Cameron made no reference to what Black had done and said he would not be giving a resume of his life or "his deeds or his misdeeds" and talked of how everyone would have to face God in a bigger judgment in an eternal court.
After a brief prayer, Mr Cameron committed Black's body for cremation with the words, 'Earth to Earth; Ashes to Ashes; Dust to Dust."
Black's coffin slipped speedily out of sight, leaving me to reflect on what had been a most surreal funeral service, listening to a minister who thought he wouldn't have any members of the public in his congregation in a church which is usually packed with grieving friends and relatives.
But yesterday there were no tears shed for Robert Black who's believed to have been Britain's most prolific child killer, a remorseless psychopath who never expressed any regrets for his merciless murder spree.
As well as nine-year-old Jennifer Cardy who was Black's first known victim, the other girls he was convicted of murdering were Susan Maxwell (11), Caroline Hogg (5) and Sarah Harper who was 10.
Police in England said that they were planning to charge him with the murder of another girl, Genette Tate (13), but he died before they could bring him back to court.
It's unclear what will happen now to Black's ashes and it's unlikely that the Prison Service will ever reveal where they end up.
Only for that tip-off to the Belfast Telegraph, no one would probably ever have been told that Black's funeral had taken place.
The bizarre service which wrote the final chapter in Black's poisonous life took barely six minutes from start to finish before his coffin disappeared into the cremator.
For the Cardy, Hogg, Maxwell and Harper families - plus the relatives of the other suspected victims - the legacy of barbaric Black's cruelty will never vanish.
Copyright INM 2016
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