'Black panther' must die in prison

NOTORIOUS killer Donald Neilson, "the black panther", has been told he must die in prison.

Neilson, now 71, is serving four life sentences for the murder of Shropshire heiress, Lesley Whittle, and three sub-Post Masters, Donald Skepper, Derek Astin and Sidney Grayland.

Neilson, a jobbing builder from Bradford, became a murderer, kidnapper and Britain's most wanted man before he was brought to justice in 1976.

By the time he kidnapped teenage heiress Lesley Whittle from her home in Shropshire in 1975, he was already a multiple murderer after a series of gun point Post Office robberies.

Ruling today that Neilson must never be freed, High Court judge, Mr Justice Teare, said today: "This is a a case where the gravity of the offences justifies a whole life order".

Rejecting Neilson's plea that his minimum jail tariff should be set as low as 30 years - which would have enabled him to seek parole straight away - the judge said: "There are and were no mitigating features".

All the killings were premeditated and "committed for gain", added Mr Justice Teare, who was reviewing Neilson's tariff at London's High Court. The trial judge had said that, in his view, Neilson should never be freed unless "on account of great age or infirmity".

He had abducted 17-year-old Lesley Whittle for gain and the judge added: "The location and manner of her death indicates that she must have been subjected by Neilson to a dreadful and horrific ordeal.

"I have concluded that the seriousness of the four murders is such that the appropriate minimum term is a whole life order.".

Neilson carried out a large number of sub Post Office raids in Nottinghamshire, Lancashire and Yorkshire, between 1967 and 1974.

In that year, Neilson shot sub-Post Master, Donald Skepper, during a raid in Harrogate. Derek Astin, another sub-Post Master in Higher Baxenden, near Accrington, died at the black panther's hands about six months later.

Two months after that, Neilson struck again, murdering Sidney Grayland, at his sub-Post Office in Langley, West Midlands. Mr Grayland's wife was also left with a fractured skull, but managed to give a description of Neilson to police.

On January 14 1975, after learning schoolgirl Lesley Whittle had inherited a fortune from her father, George, a successful coach company boss, Neilson put into action his plan to kidnap her.

Desperate to achieve notoriety, he broke into the Whittle home in Highley, Shropshire, and silently took her with him at gunpoint. On a box of chocolates on the lounge table, Neilson left a ransom demand for 50,000 which he'd punched out on a roll of Dymo-tape.

Neilson later took Lesley to a disused drainage shaft in a beauty spot, in Kidsgrove, Staffs, and left her there with a wire round her neck, basic food requirements and some bedding.

She later died, either from being throttled, or from the shere shock and terror of her ordeal. Almost two months after her kidnap, her naked body was found in the shaft, hanging from a wire cable, her feet only a few inches from the ground.

Neilson, who carried out more post office raids, was arrested in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, at the end of 1975. It was only after his home in Bradford was searched the police realised they had finally captured the black panther.