'My ruined life' - exclusive

PUBLISHED: 15:42 21 January 2009 | UPDATED: 10:23 23 August 2010

IF they ever caught the person who killed Claire, the first thing I would do is to sit down with them, and I would ask them one question: Why? Why did they attack Claire? Cliff Tiltman, the father of murdered schoolgirl Claire Tiltman, sits in his empt

IF they ever caught the person who killed Claire, the first thing I would do is to sit down with them, and I would ask them one question: Why? Why did they attack Claire?"

Cliff Tiltman, the father of murdered schoolgirl Claire Tiltman, sits in his empty home talking about the horrendous murder that has haunted his life for 16 years.

For 30 years he has lived in Stone, the home he shared with his wife Linda and their only daughter, before she was brutally knifed to death in January 1993.

That day his life changed in an instant. Claire was just 16-years-old when she was savagely attacked as she walked back to the family home in Woodward Terrace, Stone. She was killed in an alleyway, just off London Road in Greenhithe, and stabbed more than 40 times.

As the sixteenth anniversary of his daughter's death arrived on Sunday her father is still no closer to finding out who killed Claire.

Her bedroom remains a shrine to his only child yet Cliff cannot face entering it. The memories are too strong. A memorial to her placed at the end of the alleyway where she desperately lost her fight for life serves as a tribute to her life but again Cliff cannot make that walk, consumed with grief he lives a day to day existence just praying he gets the answers he craves before he dies.

To make it even harder for Cliff, this year he must face his hauntings alone after his wife of 36 years, Linda, 56, died of throat cancer last March. It was a cruel blow for a husband and wife who always hoped to find the person that ripped their lives apart.

Puffing away on his cigarettes, Cliff, 59, who works as a plumber, said: "Christmas this year was hard, without Linda I decided I wasn't going to celebrate it. I got a Christmas card from the police this year, though. They said that they will never give up. They will carry on hunting for the person that did this to Claire until they bring it to an end. When that will be I just don't know.

"It fills me with hope, that they are still doing something to find the person that did it. You see these cases on television, after years and years they find them, so I guess you always hope. But it is the not knowing that eats away at you every day of your life, no conviction, no justice, only pain."

Cliff's eyes are consumed with grief. He says one of the reasons he agreed to this interview is because the more the Reporter covers the case, the more chance there is to find the killer.

I ask if he will walk with me to Claire's memorial on London Road, next to the alleyway where she was so cruelly robbed of life, but he says it is just too hard to bear. He has done it once before, when it was vandalised in 2003, and he won't do it again.

He sits opposite me in his armchair in the house his wife told him never to sell..

"Claire was a lovely girl," Cliff laments. "She was a bit of a tom boy, not really interested in the typical girly things you would expect, she was never into wearing the skirts or the dresses.

"She was just a nice person, she would always do anything for anyone. That's how I will always remember her.

"Her ambition was to be in the Fire Brigade. She was infatuated with it. It all came from the television show London's Burning. We had tapes and tapes of it, she was obsessed with it, but obviously it was not to be."

Photographs of his beloved daughter are placed around the living room, along with pictures of Cliff with his wife. Upstairs Claire's room remains exactly how she left it before she died. Her clothes still hung up in the wardrobe, Cliff doesn't visit it often, but it's a place where he goes to remember his daughter. "It is exactly how she left it. It will never change, it will always be there," he says.

Cliff married Linda in 1972. After spending their first few years in a small terraced house in Plumstead Common, they moved to the house in Woodward Terrace in 1979, just after they had Claire.

But in 1993, when Claire was on her way home from a friend's house in Greenhithe, she took a short cut along an alleyway.

Moments later, she was attacked and stabbed to death more than 40 times. It was a crime that shocked the communities of Gravesend and Dartford.

Hundreds of police were drafted in to help with the investigation, and more than 6000 witness statements were taken.

The amount of information is so vast that a whole building houses the files and pictures on the case at Kent Police Headquarters in Maidstone. Cliff and his wife visited the building once, but after getting to the front door, they couldn't get any further.

Since Claire's death there have been numerous names in the frame. Every time a criminal is caught whose killings bear any similarity to that of Claire's, we are always left wondering whether this could be the person responsible.

Jack the Ripper fanatic Colin Ash-Smith was jailed in 1996 and is currently serving three life sentences for attacks on women, including the attempted murder of Charlotte Barnard who was attacked with a knife and left for dead 250 yards from where Claire's body was found. He was quizzed about the murder but never charged.

And most recently paranoid schizophrenic Robert Napper, who in December last year admitted to the murder of Rachel Nickell in Wimbledon Common in 1992.

But Cliff remains cautious, and tells me he never builds up hope, he will only be satisfied when the police turn up on his doorstep and tell him they have got him.

He said: "There have been a few people in the frame, and it is always hard to hear about them, it brings it back again, but it happens, these names crop up. But I have to carry on, I have to live with it every day, it will never go away will it? Our lives were ruined the day Claire was killed.

"Claire would have been in her 30s now, she could have had children, I could have been a granddad, but you just don't know."

Cliff, who spends his spare time drinking in the Bull pub on London Road Greenhithe, says he never plans on how he will spend the day his life was shattered, but spent it quietly on his own this year.

"I never think about how I will spend the day, it just happens. I used to go and lay flowers, but over time, that stopped.

"The person responsible for Claire's death just doesn't realise the affect it will have on so many different people. To see so many affected so badly, it is heartbreaking.

"This year is the first time Linda will not be with me for the anniversary, I don't know how it will turn out. When you are left on your own, it makes it much harder.

"I strongly believe that if it hadn't been for what happened to Claire, Linda would still be here today. They say the worst thing you can do to a mother is take your child away from them don't they?

"It's hard, but I will take each day as it comes. You kind of learn to live with it really. One day we might be sat here having caught the person that attacked her."

I hope he's right, and that one day I will be sat opposite Cliff not for another anniversary of Claire's death, but after hearing the police have finally caught her killer.

If you value what this story gives you, please consider supporting the Gravesend Reporter. Click the link in the orange box above for details.

Become a supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Latest from the Gravesend Reporter