Robert Black case: Police were close to child murder charge

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Media captionPolice say they are "devastated" child killer Robert Black died before he could be charged with the murder of a 13-year-old Devon schoolgirl

Police say they are "devastated" child killer Robert Black has died in prison before he could be charged with murdering a teenage Devon girl.

The Devon and Cornwall force said it was five weeks from submitting a file to prosecutors on Black linking him to the 1978 killing of Genette Tate, 13.

Scotsman Black was arrested in 2005 over the murder but not charged.

Genette's mother Sheila Cook said she did not feel "robbed of justice" because he would not have talked.

Black was initially convicted of three murders in 1994 and jailed before being found guilty of a fourth child killing in 2011.

Image copyright BBC news grab
Image caption The body of Genette Tate, 13, has not been found since she vanished while delivering newspapers in Aylesbeare, east Devon in 1978

Genette vanished while delivering newspapers in Aylesbeare, east Devon, in 1978. Her body has never been found.

Genette's mother Ms Cook said in a statement charging Black would have been "empty" without knowing Genette's whereabouts.

"It wouldn't have answered any of our questions or given me any comfort to just give him another life sentence added to those he was already serving," she said.

"So, an evil man has died and I'm not sorry about that. I reflect on what an utter waste of life that he's lived and the misery he has caused to so many families.

"I am sorry for us, I'm sorry for them, but not for him."

Image copyright PSNI
Image caption Robert Black was convicted of the murders of four other children from across the UK in the 1980s and died in prison

Genette's father John Tate told ITN: "I don't know what makes people do that sort of thing. I can't come to terms with it at all."

Genette Tate timeline

  • 19 August 1978: Genette Tate disappears from Aylesbeare, Devon, while delivering the evening newspaper. Thousands of people turned out to search the countryside
  • 1994: Robert Black sentenced to 10 life sentences for the abduction and murder of three young girls
  • 1998: Black first interviewed in connection with Genette Tate case, but denies any involvement
  • 2002: New hope after Genette's DNA was found on one of her jumpers which would allow her body to be identified quickly if discovered
  • 2005: Devon and Cornwall Police interview Black again about Genette and send a file to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS)
  • 2008: The CPS decides there is insufficient evidence to charge Black
  • 2011: Black convicted of a fourth child killing
  • 2014: Police ask prosecutors to look at bringing charges against Black

Det Supt Paul Burgan said: "Early indications from the Crown Prosecution Service is that it was probable that we would have charged Robert Black with Genette's murder.

"We were very close to a decision by the CPS."

Image caption Genette Tate's body has never been found but her family have a memorial stone for her

Mr Burgan said Black's death at the age of 68 was "totally unexpected".

The police investigation into Genette's murder was reopened in 2014 and a file was due to be submitted to the CPS next month.

Mr Burgan said the "catalyst" for reopening the case was the Court of Appeal's decision in 2013 to uphold Black's conviction for murdering Jennifer Cardy in Northern Ireland.

"That enabled us to use Black's unique offending and bad character evidence to connect him with this offence," he said.

Image caption Robert Black was convicted of murdering (clockwise from top left) Jennifer Cardy, Sarah Harper, Susan Maxwell and Caroline Hogg

Black was released after his 2005 arrest by Devon and Cornwall Police because there was insufficient evidence to prosecute him for the murder of Genette.

But Mr Burgan said there was now further witness evidence against Black.

"It was surprising after 37 years to get new witnesses but we had strengthened some of the circumstantial evidence and we think we were in a really strong position to to put a really strong case to the CPS," he said.

Mr Burgan said it was "only right for the family" that the police continued their file submission to the CPS, so prosecutors could make a "formal charging decision".

Black was convicted of murdering Jennifer Cardy, nine, of County Antrim, Sarah Harper, 10, of Leeds, Susan Maxwell, 11, of Northumberland, and Caroline Hogg, five, of Edinburgh.

In addition, Black attempted to abduct a 15-year-old girl in Nottingham in 1988, and was suspected of other unsolved crimes against children.

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