The parents of a murdered schoolgirl spoke words of forgiveness today after the serial child killer who took their daughter's life was told he would be jailed until he was at least 89.
Robert Black, now 64, was told he must serve a minimum 25 years for murdering nine-year-old Jennifer Cardy, who was snatched as she cycled to a friend's house in Ballinderry, County Antrim, Northern Ireland, in 1981.
The murderer, who has been convicted of killing four young girls and is being investigated over a fifth disappearance, is now serving at least 12 life sentences at Wakefield Prison.
This includes the jail terms for murder and kidnapping handed down by Mr Justice Ronald Weatherup at Belfast Crown Court, which effectively added a further seven years to the date at which Black could be considered for release.
The former delivery driver abducted Jennifer while on a work trip to Northern Ireland and dumped her body in water close to the main Belfast-Dublin road near Hillsborough, Co Antrim, before catching a ferry home.
Mr Justice Weatherup, who earlier heard the killer's own lawyer offer no plea for mercy, said it was a "wicked deed".
Outside the court, Jennifer's parents, Andy and Pat, said they were satisfied that, in real terms, Black would spend the rest of his life behind bars.
Mr Cardy said his family's faith in God sustained them, adding: "It has been an emotional couple of hours. It has been a long, long journey. It has been 30 years of a journey."
Of the sentence, he said: "We are very, very pleased. We think that justice has been done. We don't think Robert Black will ever be out of jail again to assault wee girls. He will never be able to torture little girls."
Mrs Cardy, who also has two sons - Philip and Mark - and a daughter, Victoria, said: "There is absolutely no bitterness.
"I have never been asked personally to forgive Robert Black."
But Mrs Cardy, who was in a wheelchair after being injured in a recent car accident, added that if he asked for forgiveness: "I would meet him face to face."
Black was convicted of Jennifer's murder in October following a six-week trial at Armagh Crown Court.
Today's hearing began with prosecution barrister Toby Hedworth QC arguing that Black should face a whole life term, given his other killings.
David Spens QC, for the defence, told the judge: "This is one of those rare cases in which there is no mitigation and so I propose to say nothing in that regard."
Around 40 killers including Moors Murderer Ian Brady and Rose West have formally been told they will never be released.
But the judge instead sentenced Black to a minimum of 25 years imprisonment.
Mr Justice Weatherup told Black that Jennifer's abduction on August 12 1981 was "an act of sexual predation".
"Whether you sexually assaulted Jennifer has been a matter of some debate but there can be no doubt that the abduction was intended to further a sexual purpose.
"Within hours of that abduction Jennifer had died by drowning as a result of your action in placing her in water.
"You subjected a vulnerable child to unpardonable terror and took away her life.
"By the manner of that loss, you also wounded forever a family that treasured that child. It was a wicked deed."
The judge spoke of victim impact statements have been provided by Jennifer's father and her brother, Philip.
"Her father speaks poignantly about Jennifer, of the family's awareness of Jennifer's absence from all family occasions, and of the harrowing revelations in the course of the trial."
The judge added: "Jennifer's brother was a six-year-old boy who lost his sister.
"He speaks of fear and dread, of a child's nightmare of the family being targeted again, of dreams of what Jennifer's last words were, and how she would have struggled in her final hour."
The judge said: "Taking a life of a family member takes away parts of the lives of many others."
Black, who was led into the Belfast court in handcuffs and wearing a white T-shirt, grey top and blue jeans, was given headphones after apparently being unable to hear the court proceedings.
He showed no emotion during the sentencing and was again handcuffed by the two prison officers who flanked him as they led him away.
Jennifer's parents sat to his left, only feet away from their daughter's killer.
After the hearing ended, the deeply religious couple spent a few quiet moments alone before addressing the media, amid heavy wind and rain, outside the court building.
Black was found guilty in 1994 of three unsolved child murders in the 1980s - those of 11-year-old Susan Maxwell, from the Scottish Borders, five-year-old Caroline Hogg, from Edinburgh, and Sarah Harper, 10, from Morley, near Leeds.
Black's reign of terror finally ended in 1990 when he was caught red-handed with a six-year-girl hooded, bound, gagged and stuffed in a sleeping bag in the back of his van in the Scottish village of Stow. He had sexually assaulted her moments earlier.
During his trial for Jennifer's murder, Black did not betray a flicker of emotion, presenting an unwavering picture of cold indifference.
Black was born in 1947 near Falkirk in Scotland to a single mother who put him up to be fostered within weeks.
The couple who took him in later died and Black was placed in a children's home back in Falkirk.
The predatory paedophile has long been the prime suspect in the case of missing 13-year-old Genette Tate, who was last seen in a rural lane in Aylesbeare, Devon, in 1978.
- More about:
- Edinburgh, Scotland
- Judges (court Of Law)
- Northern Ireland