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Claire Tiltman slashed repeatedly in alleyway in Greenhithe, Colin Ash-Smith murder jury hears

A teenager stabbed to death in an alleyway in a "frenzied" attack may well have been slashed at many more times, a court's heard.

Jurors hearing evidence in the murder trial of Colin Ash-Smith heard Claire Tiltman suffered nine stab wounds on the fateful night in 1993 she walked through an alleyway in Greenhithe.

But the evidence, said prosecutor Brian Altman QC, suggested her clothing was slashed many more times than her actual wounds indicated - in what was "a frenzied attack, with repeated stabbing occurring in just a matter of seconds".

Colin Ash-Smith at the time of his arrest for the knife attack on a woman in Greenhithe in 1995
Colin Ash-Smith at the time of his arrest for the knife attack on a woman in Greenhithe in 1995

Many of the wounds were inflicted to the right-hand side of the 16-year-old's body. Ash-Smith is left-handed.

The jury at Inner London Crown Court, where former milkman Ash-Smith, now 46, denies the murder of Claire in January 1993, was told he had been arrested in October 1995 after carrying out a knife attack on a woman.

It happened less than 400m from where Claire was stabbed to death in an alleyway off London Road, Greenhithe, in what was described as a “frenzied and remorseless” attack.

In 1988 Ash-Smith, who was said to be a loner obsessed with knives, had also tried to murder a woman by both strangling and stabbing her, as well as attempting to rape her.

Mr Altman yesterday told the jury some of the important witnesses to the case were now dead, but their evidence would be read to them.

But the court heard today that Ash-Smith phoned the police incident room less than 24 hours after her murder.

He claimed to have been driving past the British Legion club at "about 6.30pm" when he saw a male person crossing at the pedestrian crossing, prior to turning left towards Greenhithe.

The Greenhithe alleyway where Claire Tiltman was repeatedly stabbed
The Greenhithe alleyway where Claire Tiltman was repeatedly stabbed

That was the crossing Claire would have had to use after buying her cigarettes.

Ash-Smith added that the man he saw had dark, curly hair.

Mr Altman said the call was "a very deliberate diversionary tactic" because he feared that either he or his distinctive white Ford Capri had been seen.

However, he made a "fundamental mistake" by giving the time of his sighting as 6.30pm - when Claire was already dead.

Realising his error, the court heard, he then told police in a witness statement six days after his call that it was 35 to 45 minutes earlier that he had seen "the person".

He added his mother, who was a Dartford borough councillor at the time, was in the car with him and that he was back home by 6pm.

Furthermore, he said he could not recall whether it was a male or female.

Claire Tiltman was found dead in an alleyway in 1993
Claire Tiltman was found dead in an alleyway in 1993

Mr Altman said Ash-Smith "obscured" the gender because his initial description was "far too close to the truth" in that it described Claire.

When spoken to again by police on the day of Claire's funeral in February 1993, Ash-Smith said his father mentioned a stabbing incident on the evening of January 18 but he did not know it was Claire until he heard a radio report the next day.

The families knew each other from the Royal British Legion club in Greenhithe but Ash-Smith said he was not "socially close" to the teenager.

Five years before Claire's murder, Ash-Smith subjected a woman to a gun and knifepoint sex attack.

In December 1988 she was pounced upon by Ash-Smith and forced to a quarry near Swanscombe where, having removed her jeans and knickers, attempted to rape her more than once but failed.

He stuffed toilet tissue into her mouth to stop her screaming and made her adopt sexual poses for photographs.

She was also gagged with strips of material and had her hands tied.

Several times he threatened to kill her and then, using his old school tie, tried to strangle her.

Floral tributes to Claire Tiltman in London Road, Greenhithe in 1993
Floral tributes to Claire Tiltman in London Road, Greenhithe in 1993

But the court heard the tie ripped in two. So he then turned her on her stomach and repeatedly stabbed her in the back, leaving her for dead.

Miraculously she survived, having rolled down the quarry and alerted nearby workmen.

Her attacker was not identified at the time but the jury was told Ash-Smith phoned police the next day and gave details only her attacker would have known.

He also inferred he was not a local man, "the kind of diversionary tactic he employed the day following Claire's murder", said the prosecutor. 

Two years after Claire's murder, Ash-Smith dragged a screaming woman from the street and repeatedly stabbed her, the court heard.

Healthcare assistant Charlotte Barnard was pounced upon in Station Road, Greenhithe, in October 1995, after an evening with friends.

The attack happened "almost within sight" of where Claire was murdered in January 1993, said Mr Altman.

Ash-Smith put a knife to Miss Barnard's throat and cut her before holding her across her body and arms and dragging into the deserted Kent Tool and Die yard.

Claire's parents Cliff and Linda lay flowers at the spot where she died
Claire's parents Cliff and Linda lay flowers at the spot where she died

The 21-year-old was then repeatedly stabbed to her torso.

The court heard there was no sexual element to the attack or any demands for money.

Miss Barnard suffered 14 stab wounds - eight to her back, one to the right flank and five to her right hand as she tried to fight off her assailant.

She collapsed to the ground and her attacker fled. Despite bleeding profusely, Miss Barnard crawled to a nearby house.

The court heard Ash-Smith was arrested just hours later after a witness saw him on foot and his Capri parked nearby at the time.

Miss Barnard also picked him out on an identity parade.

A bloodstained knife was found at his home in Ingress Park, and in his car was the remaining half of his old Downs School tie which had been used in the 1988 attack.

The beige-coloured jacket he was said to have "habitually worn" was also examined by police but the traces of blood found were insufficient for blood grouping analysis.

Mr Altman told the court the jacket was returned to Ash-Smith's father in 1998 but that when police searched all the known addresses for the Ash-Smiths in September last year the jacket was no longer to be found.

Claire Tiltman's funeral
Claire Tiltman's funeral

Ash-Smith confessed to both the attack on Miss Barnard and the earlier 1988 attack while in police custody.

He was also being questioned at the time about Claire's murder.

In a note handed to police, Ash-Smith said he had not been "facing up to the truth" as he was worried about damaging his family and losing their support.

But he added he had "twice lost control and done something he did not know why".

Mr Altman told the jury that by admitting the 1988 and 1995 attacks, Ash-Smith hoped it would avoid his family suffering further damage in respect of Claire's killing.

Claire, who was a pupil at Dartford Grammar School, was stabbed repeatedly as she walked less than a mile from her family home in Woodward Terrace, Horns Cross, to a friend’s home in Greenhithe.

Despite her injuries, Claire was able to stagger out of the dark alleyway but collapsed and died on the pavement.

The court was told she was killed “for the sake of killing”.

“Claire was a target for a completely senseless slaughter of an innocent young teenage girl, you might think for no better reason than the warped pleasure he derived from attacking a lone woman and the ultimate power and control it gave him,” said Mr Altman.

The trial continues.

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