Black linked to 12 more child murders: Files on unsolved cases to be re-examined after paedophile is jailed for killings of three girls

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ROBERT BLACK, who began at least 35 years in jail yesterday after being found guilty of the murders of three young girls in the 1980s, could be responsible for more than a dozen further similar killings in Britain, Northern Ireland and France, detectives said last night.

The conviction of the paedophile killer, who had a large collection of child pornography, means a string of other unsolved murders and disappearances of young girls dating back as early as 1969 will be examined by police for links with Black, including the disappearance of Genette Tate, 13, on 19 August 1978, in Devon.

At Newcastle Crown Court yesterday, Black, 47, from Stamford Hill, north London, was given 10 life sentences after the jury found him guilty of the murders and kidnappings of Susan Maxwell, 11, Caroline Hogg, five, and Sarah Harper, 11, and the kidnapping of Theresa Thornhill, 15, all during the 1980s. The Maxwell and Thornhill verdicts were unanimous while the Hogg and Harper verdicts were by majorities. Black denied all charges.

Recommending that Black, a van driver, serve a minimum of 35 years, Mr Justice Macpherson described him as 'an extremely dangerous man' who will spend the rest of his life behind bars.

In addition to the Tate case, a further five or six cases in England, two in Northern Ireland and three in France, where Black is known to have travelled frequently during the 1980s, will be examined. Although police sources believe the tally could run into double figures, they discount estimates of 19 other deaths.

There were emotional scenes in the packed courtroom yesterday as the clearly exhausted jury of six men and six women returned their verdicts after 13 hours of deliberation following a 25-day trial. The jury knew Black was serving a life sentence for the admitted abduction of a six-year-old girl in Stow in the Scottish borders in 1990, which led to his arrest.

Black, impassive but with an aggressive stare on his face, turned sharply as the judge said 'Take him down,' looked at the police in the case and said mockingly: 'Well done, boys.' He had not spoken throughout his trial.

The murder inquiry began in July 1982 when Susan Maxwell vanished on her way home to Cornhill on Tweed in Northumberland. Her decomposed body was discovered 240 miles away near a lay-by in Staffordshire.

Caroline Hogg vanished in July 1983, in Portobello, Edinburgh; her body was found near to a lay- by at Twycross, Leicestershire.

Sarah Harper vanished in March 1986, a few yards from her home in Morley, Leeds. She was found floating in the river Trent in Nottinghamshire. Theresa Thornhill, then 15, was kidnapped at Radford, Nottinghamshire, in 1988, but managed to escape.

Despite the biggest police investigation ever conducted, Black evaded capture. He continued to work as a delivery driver for a London company, using his van to hold the girls while assaulting them, until his arrest in Scotland. Afterward, police launched a massive operation to link him with the three unsolved killings, retracing his movements through credit card slips and petrol receipts. Although police discovered paedophile material at his home, there was no other evidence against him.

Yesterday police rejected criticisms that Black should have been caught earlier. Andrew Brown, Assistant Chief Constable of Lothian and Borders, said Black, who had a record of minor sexual offences, had not been included in the police computer because it had been important to stick to 'sensible parameters' in identifying suspects. Police did not discover that Black's van had been in the area of each of the abductions at the time.

Yesterday's verdict ends years of torment for the families of the three dead girls. Susan Maxwell's mother, Liz, a journalist, said she and her husband were 'very, very relieved' at the jury's decison.

Further 'murders', page 3

(Photograph omitted)