Published: 00:00, 26 April 2016
| Updated: 15:02, 26 April 2016
Convicted schoolgirl killer Colin Ash-Smith could be released from prison to attend his father’s funeral.
The 47-year-old is currently an inmate at category B HMP Durham in the north east, having been jailed for life for Claire Tiltman’s murder.
The former milkman from Swanscombe savagely killed the 16-year-old in a frenzied knife attack in an alleyway in Greenhithe in January 1993.
Despite being behind bars since 1996 for two other brutal stabbings, Ash-Smith was not convicted of Claire’s murder until December 2014 at the end of a five-week trial.
He was ordered to serve a minimum of 21 years before being considered for parole, and in November last year he saw his conviction appeal bid rejected by three of the country’s top judges.
The death of Aubrey Ash-Smith, who lived in Myrtle Place, Stone, and was once a local councillor, was announced by a relative on social media at the weekend.
If the service is held locally and Ash-Smith is granted permission by the Home Office, it will be the first time he has set foot in the area since he was arrested in 1995 and subsequently jailed for life for two other vicious knife attacks on two women in Swanscombe and Greenhithe.
His possible release has sparked outrage on social media, although some have commented that it is his human right.
Joanne Roberts, who was one of Claire’s childhood friends who mounted the Justice for Claire campaign, said on their behalf: “It is ludicrous that this man could believe he is deserving of such compassion, or that this is his right to say goodbye to his father and be a comfort to her (his mother), when they denied a family of everything life could have given them.
“To be honest it makes us feel physically sick, he is serving another life sentence, and funerals are part of life outside of prison.”
"To be honest it makes us feel physically sick, he is serving another life sentence, and funerals are part of life outside of prison" - Joanne Roberts
The Ministry of Justice stated it did not usually comment on individual cases but confirmed no application for release had yet been made.
A spokesman said release could only be applied for in writing once funeral details were known. A risk assessment would then be carried out.
Mr Ash-Smith was believed to have been under the care of the ellenor hospice in Northfleet when he died on Saturday.
It is not known when or where his funeral will be held.
Mr Ash-Smith was married to Diane, who was a ward councillor in Swanscombe and Greenhithe at the time of Claire's murder and became mayor in 1995.
The family attended her funeral, with Ash-Smith dressed in the jacket he was believed to have been wearing when he killed her.
Ash-Smith was always prime suspect in Claire's murder. However, he could not be linked to the heinous crime until a cold case review by the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate led to him being charged in February 2014.
Ash-Smith, who was described in the trial as a knife-obsessed loner who kept hand-written notes of his attacks, was charged with Claire's murder on the day he was due before the Parole Board for his other knife attacks in 1988 and 1995.
He was convicted at the Inner London Crown Court in Southwark.
Mr Ash-Smith was himself jailed in 1997 for a year for dismantling, boiling and dumping a knife belonging to his son.
He denied perverting the course of justice during a trial at Maidstone Crown Court but was found guilty by the jury.
The army knife was discovered after the 1995 attack. Mr Ash-Smith told the court he only destroyed the weapon to remove his own fingerprints from it.
He added he got the idea of boiling the knife to remove forensic evidence from detective films.
"I didn't for one minute think my son would be arrested in connection with the Claire Tiltman murder," he told the jury.
However, the sentencing judge told him that his actions "caused questions to be raised about your son's conduct in respect of Claire Tiltman" and prolonged the agony endured by the teenager's parents, Linda and Cliff.
Sadly, both died before seeing their daughter's killer brought to justice.
The Ash-Smiths, like the Tiltmans, were members of the Greenhithe and Swanscombe Royal British Legion Club, with Mr Ash-Smith a committee member.
They rarely attended their son's trial and were not in court when the verdict was announced nor when he was sentenced.
After police raided the couple’s home as part of the cold case review in September 2013, Mr Ash-Smith, then 67, spoke exclusively to the Messenger.
He claimed police had “lost the plot” over finding Claire’s killer, and maintained his son was innocent.
Ash-Smith's temporary release could be granted under what is known as a Special Purpose Licence. This is of short duration, often at short notice, that allows eligible prisoners to respond to what is termed "exceptional, personal circumstances and to wider criminal justice needs".
These include attending funerals, medical appointments and court hearings, as well as visiting dying relatives.
There is no automatic right of entitlement to release on temporary licence (ROTL) and a prisoner will only be released on temporary licence once they have satisfied a stringent risk assessment carried out by a designated ROTL board at the prison.
Dartford MP Gareth Johnson said: "It’s ironic that he may well be asking the Ministry of Justice to show him compassion when he showed no compassion whatsoever to his victims."