FOLLOWING the conviction of notorious child killer Robert Black for the murder of Jennifer Cardy, police have revealed more details of how the 30-year manhunt finally ended.
“Good, old-fashioned police work” is being credited with bringing the Cardy case – one of the coldest of the cold cases on file – to a successful conclusion yesterday.
Crucial to the murder inquiry was finding a scrap of evidence placing Black in Northern Ireland on the day of the murder in August 1981.
As well as reading and re-reading thousands of statements, written records, and countless other related documents, investigating detectives eventually trawled 560,000 old fuel receipts in a bid to nail the killer – eventually finding the one that would bring Black before an Ulster court.
The otherwise innocuous credit card receipt – for a white Datsun van taking on petrol in Coventry – would have been an unlikely possible link to the disappearance of a schoolgirl in Northern Ireland.
However, that 30-year-old print-out proved absolutely vital in placing the serial killer, who then worked as a dispatch driver based in London, near the scene of the crime.
It proved that Black was driving south to London the day after the murder in a van primarily used to deliver posters in Northern Ireland. Crucially, he had scrawled his name on the receipt,
That, argued the Crown, could only mean one thing – he was on the way back to base after disembarking from the overnight ferry from Belfast at Liverpool docks.
The receipt was found among reams and reams of microfiche retrieved from storage warehouses at the UK headquarters of Shell UK in greater Manchester.
Similar dockets were hugely significant in Black’s triple murder trial in 1994.
The Coventry slip was one small piece of paper among 22 tons of documentation transported to police in Northern Ireland when the case was reopened in 2002 by current detective superintendent Raymond Murray.
Detective Superintendent Murray said it was “attention to detail” that eventually gave the Cardy family justice.
“In the end, it was good, old-fashioned police work which brought this case to trial and secured a conviction,” he said.
“It was trawling through literally tons of material and checking every minute aspect to pull together all the pieces of this jigsaw from many parts of the UK.
“It was planning a productive interview strategy and dealing with all the legal hurdles which confronted us.”
Two articulated lorries were required to transport the police files and exhibits to the province and hundreds of boxes, relating to all Black’s past crimes, now fill one and a half secure storage rooms in a Belfast police station.
Experienced detective chief inspector Stephen Clarke was one of those who played a key role in progressing what must have at times seemed like a hopeless case.
When Mr Murray was redeployed to Londonderry, Mr Clarke took on the day-to-day running of the investigation from a new base in Belfast alongside detective constable Andy Macleod.
Aided by a small team of other officers, they painstakingly analysed all the evidence in an effort to build the case against Black.
Detective constable Yvonne Younger also had a vital role, particularly when it came to keeping the Cardy family aware of developments.
Throughout the trial in Armagh Crown Court she was ever present at the side of Jennifer’s parents Andy and Patricia in her role as family liaison.
In totality, the Black files contained references to 187,000 individuals, including 60,000 witness statements.
It took nine years to construct the case that finally ended with Black being found guilty of Jennifer’s kidnap and murder.
Little wonder when the senior detectives were wondering what to christen the investigation, one name seemed obvious: Perseverance.
Det Supt Murray praised the “dignity and patience” of the Cardy family over three decades and said he hoped they feel they’ve got the justice they deserve.
“Our thoughts today are with the entire Cardy family, and in particular with Jennifer’s parents Andy and Patricia, her sister Victoria and brothers Philip and Mark.
“None of us can imagine what they have suffered over the past 30 years or, more recently, during the past weeks of this trial when the horrific events of August 1981 were re-visited.
“This has been one of the longest police investigations ever conducted in Northern Ireland. It has taken many twists and turns. At times we have been full of hope and on other occasions we’ve been frustrated by a lack of progress, but we stuck to our principles and to our task and we have collected enough evidence to convince a jury that Robert Black is guilty.”
Mr Murray said it was a privilege to lead the police team investigating Jennifer’s murder for the past nine years and added: “The details of Robert Black’s crimes, as we have heard over the last number of weeks, give a greater insight into him than any words I could ever say.
“A convicted paedophile, he preyed on the most vulnerable, most innocent and most cherished members of society – our children – devastating families and communities along the way.
“Today’s conviction will ensure he remains behind bars for a long time to come.”