Serial child killer Robert Black, whose victims included a 10-year-old girl from Leeds, has died in prison at the age of 68.
Scottish-born paedophile Black was serving 12 life sentences for the murders of four schoolgirls during the 1980s, including Morley girl Sarah Harper.
Ten-year-old Sarah, of Brunswick Place, was on her way back from a nearby corner shop when she was snatched and murdered in 1986.
Four weeks later, a dog walker found her body floating in the River Trent at Wilford near Nottingham.
A post-mortem examination revealed she had been violently sexually assaulted before drowning.
In 1994, Black was found guilty of Sarah’s murder along with two other unsolved child murders in the 1980s – those of 11-year-old Susan Maxwell, from the Scottish Borders and five-year-old Caroline Hogg from Edinburgh – as well as a failed abduction bid in Nottingham in 1988.
His reign of terror finally ended in 1990 when he was caught red-handed by police with a barely alive six-year-old 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.
In 2012, Black was found guilty of the 1981 murder of nine-year-old Jennifer Cardy, from Ballinderry, Co Antrim.
He was also suspected of involvement in other killings - and today police said he was likely to have been charged with the murder of Genette Tate within weeks.
Genette, a newspaper delivery girl, vanished from a rural lane in Aylesbeare, Devon, in August 1978. Her body has never been found.
Detective Superintendent Paul Burgan, of Devon and Cornwall Police, said Black was “weeks” away from probably being charged with her murder.
“The reinvestigation into Genette’s murder started back in 2014 following a court of appeal hearing in 2013,” Mr Burgan said.
“We have had a team of 10 working on that extensively for the past two years.
“We were in the process of submitting a full evidential file to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), which would have been submitted in February of this year.
“In earlier indications, the CPS has said that in all probability, we would have charged Robert Black with Genette’s abduction and murder.
“We were waiting for a final charging decision from them when the file went to them.”
Mr Burgan said that he expected the charging decision from the CPS to come in “weeks rather than months”.
The force will still submit the file to the CPS for a charging decision for Genette’s family, he added.
Black first became a suspect in Genette’s murder in 1994 and was initially interviewed by Devon and Cornwall Police about it in 1996.
In 2002, a large scale investigation took place and was linked with one the Police Service of Northern Ireland were conducting into Jennifer’s murder.
Following the Court of Appeal decision in 2013, Devon and Cornwall Police launched a reinvestigation into Genette’s murder.
Officers have since identified potential witnesses in the case.
Speaking about the news of Black’s death, a Northern Ireland Prison Service spokeswoman said: “The Prison Service has confirmed that a 68-year-old prisoner has died at Maghaberry Prison.
“While this is not being treated as suspicious, the Prison Service has informed the PSNI, Coroner, and Prisoner Ombudsman.
“It would not be appropriate to comment further at this time.”
YOUNG VICTIM OF A DEPRAVED KILLER
Black attacked Sarah Harper on the evening of Wednesday March 26, during her Easter holidays from school, after she was sent on an errand to the corner shop by her mother.
The shopkeeper remembered her calling in, buying a loaf of bread for her mum and two packets of crisps.
She was last seen heading down a short alleyway on her way home.
Three and a half weeks later, a man walking his dog along the River Trent at Wilford, near Nottingham, saw something floating in the water.
He was shocked to realise it was a body - Sarah’s.
A post-mortem examination revealed she had been subjected to a violent sexual assault.
The cause of death was drowning, with tests suggesting she was still alive when she was dumped in the river, albeit possibly unconscious.
Black made a delivery in Morley on the evening Sarah disappeared. A return trip to London via the River Trent would have seen him take the same exit off the M1 motorway he used when visiting his friend in Donisthorpe.