Relatives of serial killer Robert Black yet to come forward ahead of inquest

Robert Black. PIC: PA
Robert Black. PIC: PA

A failure to trace any relatives of child serial killer Robert Black may see his inquest proceed without family participation, a coroner has said.

Nine months of efforts by the Coroner Service for Northern Ireland to find relations of the late Scottish paedophile have come to nothing, corner Patrick McGurgan was told on Friday.

Black, who was convicted of four child murders but suspected of many more, died of heart disease in a Northern Ireland prison in 2016 aged 68.

The loner paedophile from Grangemouth near Falkirk was a delivery driver who stalked the roads of the UK searching for victims.

Black was cremated and his ashes were scattered at sea after prison authorities in Northern Ireland revealed no one wanted his remains.

An inquest is being held into his death to establish if there were any issues with the medical care he received while incarcerated.

At a preliminary hearing in Belfast, a lawyer for the Coroners Service updated Mr McGurgan on efforts to find any relations to participate in the inquest.

“Efforts are being made by an investigating officer but they can’t be traced,” he said.

“There’s not much more that can be done it seems.”

It was initially believed that some of Black’s relations might live in Northern Ireland.

Noting previous media coverage of efforts to locate the family members, the coroner said issuing a formal public appeal could be an option.

“We would all like next of kin to be involved in this inquest, I think it’s very important,” he said.

Addressing the legal representatives involved in the case, the coroner added: “Are we content that we could proceed in the absence of next of kin?

“It’s not unheard of.”

One of the lawyers agreed that such a move was not without precedent and highlighted that he had been involved in an inquest without family participation in the recent past.

Mr McGurgan said the absence of a relation at the full hearing in December might make it difficult to officially record some personal details about Black.

The killer’s long reign of terror was 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.

Once in custody, the predator was linked to a series of unsolved crimes in the previous decade.

In 1994, Black was found guilty of three 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, as well as a failed abduction bid in Nottingham in 1988.

In 2011, he was found guilty of the 1981 murder of nine-year-old Jennifer Cardy, from Ballinderry, Co Antrim.

At Friday’s hearing, Mr McGurgan said contacting the lawyers who represented Black in the 2011 case could potentially aid efforts to trace his relatives.

Black, who lived out his last days in Maghaberry high security prison in Co Antrim, was also suspected of involvement in other killings and unexplained disappearances and had 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.

The killer was put up to be fostered within weeks of his birth in 1947.

A couple from Kinlochleven in the West Highlands who took him in both died within 11 years and Black spent the rest of his childhood in residential homes in Falkirk and Edinburgh.

The full inquest into Black’s death is scheduled to start on the week commencing Monday December 3 in Armagh.

Another preliminary hearing will take place on November 5.