Kent

School friends' fight for murdered Claire Tiltman

Claire Tiltman Image copyright BBC news grab
Image caption Claire Tiltman was murdered in an alleyway near her home just four days after her 16th birthday

Claire Tiltman's school friends have never given up hope of seeing her killer brought to justice, keeping her memory alive for almost 22 years and attending court each day during the trial of Colin Ash-Smith.

Claire turned 16 just four days before she was brutally stabbed to death by Ash-Smith in an alleyway, as she walked to a friend's house in Greenhithe, Kent, on the evening of 18 January 1993.

The Dartford Grammar School for Girls pupil was in the middle of sitting her mock GCSE exams and was planning to chat to her friend about her options for the next academic year.

Ash-Smith was found guilty of Claire's murder on Thursday at Inner London Crown Court.

Known as "Tilt" to her friends, she had dreams of becoming a firefighter.

"That was her obsession. She lived it night and day," said her best friend Lisa Gribbin.

Claire was the only child of Linda and Cliff Tiltman.

Image copyright BBC news grab
Image caption Linda and Cliff Tiltman had hoped to see their daughter's killer brought to justice before they died

They worshipped their daughter and were devastated by her death but both died of cancer without ever seeing her killer convicted - Mrs Tiltman in 2008, aged 56, and her husband in 2012, aged 63.

They had regularly appealed for help to find Claire's killer and had long suspected it could have been Ash-Smith, who was known to the family and had been jailed for two other knife attacks on women, in which both victims survived.

Friends who were with Mr Tiltman at the end of his life described him as a "totally broken man", who was still waiting for closure.

Ms Gribbin said the bond between Claire and her parents had been one of the "strongest and closest relationships" she had ever seen.

Image copyright BBC news grab
Image caption Joanne Roberts (left) and Lisa Gribbin said the murder of their friend, known as Tilt, had been very traumatic

"Her parents were her idols and, amazingly for the age we were, she was never embarrassed to say that or show it," she recalled.

Ms Gribbin said attending the trial of Ash-Smith had been very important as, without her family, Claire "really needed someone in that courtroom for her".

Image copyright Justice for Claire
Image caption Claire Tiltman (far left) and Lisa Gribbin (next to her) both attended Dartford Grammar School for Girls

"It's been awful to hear what happened to her but we needed to know.

"We still don't know why it happened but we needed to know what happened," she said.

Another school friend, Joanne Roberts, said the memories of the day Claire had been murdered had never faded and it had been important to keep her memory alive.

"It was very traumatic at the time, we were very young and it was right on top of exams," Ms Roberts said.

"Because no-one was ever brought to justice we never got answers - so it became something we were always thinking about."

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Media captionClaire Tiltman was stabbed to death in Greenhithe, Kent, on 18 January 1993

Ms Gribbin added: "You couldn't move on from it until you had the answers.

"It was hard because one minute she was just there and then she was just gone.

"All of a sudden your life was just completely changed... it destroyed her whole family - her grandparents, her parents, our lives as well," she said.

Along with other close friends, Ms Gribbin and Ms Roberts founded the Justice for Claire campaign, which has raised funds for the Ellenor Lions Hospice and the Fire Fighters Charity.

On the 20th anniversary of her death, they organised a candlelit walk, following the route Claire took on the night she was murdered, to keep the case in the public eye.

Image copyright BBC news grab
Image caption A memorial plaque on London Road marks Claire's death and that of Det Supt Owen Taylor, who led the investigation into her murder but died in 1997

Ms Gribbin and Ms Roberts said their friend was just a normal 16-year-old girl "who had crushes on boys and wrote it all over her school books, [and] snuck off for a sneaky cigarette".

She was also "deeply loyal".

The conviction of Ash-Smith finally brings to an end their long fight for justice for their friend and her parents.

"But you can't get her back... every day you just want her back," said Ms Gribbin.

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Image caption Claire's school friends said it was important for her and her parents that they were in court every day

"What he [Ash-Smith] did was unforgiveable and he took her life, destroyed her parents' lives.

"You look back now and you see he was at her funeral and he saw the pain that everybody was suffering that day.

"Tilt's grandad collapsed in the middle of the aisle... and he sat through that in silence," she recalled.

Ms Roberts added the verdict meant they could now "reclaim" their friend and their memories.

"It's not the murdered schoolgirl of Greenhithe anymore, she'll be our Tilt again."

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Media captionClaire Tiltman took an interest in pool after seeing her father play it

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