Child seen hitting car with racket, murder trial told

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(First Edition)

A community psychiatric nurse giving evidence in the Susan Maxwell murder trial said yesterday that he was sure he had seen the young girl banging a tennis racket against a car on the day that she disappeared.

The jury in the trial at Newcastle upon Tyne of Robert Black, 47, who faces 10 charges involving kidnapping and the murders of three girls - Susan, 11, Caroline Hogg, five, and Sarah Harper, 10 - in the 1980s, was hearing evidence for the first time about the sightings of other individuals near to where Susan vanished. He denies all the charges.

Thomas Ball, the psychiatric nurse, said that he had a 'a fairly clear memory' of seeing the girl waving a tennis racket in the doorway of the car soon after driving over the Coldstream Bridge into England on 30 July, 1982, about the time Susan Maxwell vanished.

'I was concerned about it - she was hitting the car with the tennis racket,' said Mr Ball, who was on a camping holiday with his cousin and her boyfriend from Australia. He said he noticed the girl was hitting the car on the inside and he saw her strike a 'very solid blow'.

'She was making quite a lot of noise . . . it seemed to be a child throwing a fit of temper. That is how I interpreted it.'

Mr Ball, who was not called by the prosecution, went on to explain that he had seen at least two people, both men, in the vehicle. As he drove past he remembered seeing the girl walking south, away from the parked car, without her racket. He did not think anything more about the incident until many weeks later when he heard an interview about the kidnapping on the Jimmy Young Show on Radio 2. He had then called the police and had eventually been interviewed.

The defence claims that if Mr Ball's evidence is correct it points away from Mr Black, who was driving a white van that day.

The court has been told that Susan vanished 'into thin air' on her way home from a tennis match with a friend. She had been allowed, for the first time, to walk home alone the short distance from Coldstream to Cornhill on Tweed in Northumberland, when she was kidnapped. Her body was discovered 15 days later, 240 miles away.

Asked by Ronald Thwaites QC, counsel for the defence, whether he had been shown a photograph by the police of Susan Maxwell after her kidnapping, Mr Ball said that he had. Mr Thwaites asked: 'When you were shown the photo what did you say?' Mr Ball replied: 'I was certain that was the child.'

The trial continues today.