Tragedy mum dies without justice

PUBLISHED: 17:18 19 March 2008 | UPDATED: 09:35 23 August 2010

TRIBUTE: Lin and Cliff Tiltman with a plaque marking the spot near where their daughter was left to die of stab wounds.

TRIBUTE: Lin and Cliff Tiltman with a plaque marking the spot near where their daughter was left to die of stab wounds.

MORE than 15 years ago Lin Tiltman s life was changed in an instant. She was told someone had killed her only child - a beautiful, friendly teenager called Claire. Only Lin s husband Cliff, who now faces life without his beloved wife after she died from

Claire was murdered aged just 16

MORE than 15 years ago Lin Tiltman's life was changed in an instant. She was told someone had killed her only child - a beautiful, friendly teenager called Claire.

Only Lin's husband Cliff, who now faces life without his beloved wife after she died from cancer last week, can truly understand the pain, trauma, anguish and devastation left after their daughter Claire's death.

Slumped and mutilated in an alleyway in Greenhithe at the age of 16, it was an atrocity no-one should be made to suffer. But for Cliff and Lin the pain of knowing that Claire never got the justice she deserved, and they craved, tore at their hearts every single day. Anniversary after anniversary and case review after case review since 1993 left Lin a broken woman. Who wouldn't be?

For about six years I worked closely with the Tiltmans talking for hours about their love for Claire, and listening to their belief that they knew who killed their daughter, and their torment that the monster will never face justice.

Five years ago Lin told me she felt vandals had "kicked her in the teeth" after a memorial plaque was smashed from the wall where Claire died.

Once again she used the fresh pain to beg for information, saying: "How would they feel if it was their sister or mum or girlfriend who was killed? It's just like Claire's murder, someone knows something."

Even Dave King, of Kent Police's Cold Case Review Commission, is adamant that someone in the area knows who the killer is. After giving the Kentish Times access to information from numerous case reviews they still believe justice for Claire will one day be revealed. The Gravesend-born former CID and serious crime investigator said: "I have always thought and still think there is a strong possibility that someone knows enough that could give us that information that could lead to a conviction."

But despite painstaking reviews and advances in DNA technology no-one has ever been charged with Claire's murder.

Jack the Ripper fanatic Colin Ash-Smith was quizzed by cops over the murder. The milkman was jailed in 1996 and is currently serving three life sentences at Wakefield Prison for terrifying attacks on women.

His parents Diane, a former mayor, and Aubrey Smith, a former councillor, were once friends of Lin and Cliff. They even helped them get through Claire's funeral and arranged memorial nights. Diane gave her son an alibi at the time of Claire's murder and he was never charged but their friendship was shattered when Colin was jailed for stabbing Charlotte Barnard, 22, more than 20 times in a frenzied attack just yards from where Claire was murdered. The horrific catalogue of crimes included the attempted murder, attempted rape, and kidnapping of a caretaker's wife in Swanscombe eight years before the high-profile trail.

At Ash-Smith's trial in December 1996, Old Bailey Judge Mr Justice Wright, said: "You are far too dangerous to be at large."

At the time Lin Tiltman told reporters: "His mum Diane is still convinced her son is not a monster. All we can do is try and get on with our lives - but we know we can't until Claire's killer is charged."

Both Lin and Cliff Tiltman were among the first to support the Kentish Times campaign to keep Bobbies on the Beat as news broke that the main station in Dartford and Gravesend were to be moved to Ebbsfleet 10 years after Claire's murder. Since their daughters death a road has been opened in Greenhithe named Claire Causeway in her memory. A bench with a plaque stands in a memorial garden just 100 yards from her home and tree was planted by her teachers and classmates at Dartford Grammar School for Girls. Lin did everything possible to keep her memory alive and the public interest in the case alive.

Only a few months ago it was Cliff who spoke to the Kentish Times about his sadness that Lin would die knowing she never had the chance to stand in court and hear a jury say "guilty". She would die knowing the only thing she could have given Claire after her brutal murder - justice - was beyond her control.

This year the UK has been rocked by sickening, brutal, perverted murders. But what is most common in all these cases, is how hideous the evidence was, how painful it must have been for those parents to drag themselves to court everyday to listen to how a beast ripped the life out of their beautiful children, Lin and Cliff never had that closure, that chance to say 'Claire, we got the bastard."

If you asked Lin Tiltman what the key question for most parents in this awful situation is and they will say every time: "Who did this? Who killed my child?" Others are sure to follow like: "Why chose my child?" These are all conversations I have had with brave Lin and Cliff over and over again, year after year. They couldn't get Claire back but they wanted the truth. They wanted justice.

But as the original investigation leaks away, memories fade, people move on and justice slips further and further away their pain remains. And like the cancer that killed Lin the grief eats away at the soul. Cliff could not have been nearer the truth when he said, on the fifteenth anniversary of his daughter's death: "There is no doubt in my mind that it was Claire's death that has caused her illness. She has coped well with it, but now the stress of it all is now beginning to show."

At least both Lin and Cliff can be proud of how they never gave up fighting for justice and that is something no-one can ever take from them.

'I never know if I will find out who did it, Lin never got to find out'

"It might seem bizarre, but the way I look at it, she is with Claire now. It's what I hold onto, that she is with our daughter."

These are the words of Cliff Tiltman, who lost his wife Linda to throat cancer on March 7 at Darent Valley Hospital.

The devastated 58-year-old, of Woodward Terrace, Greenhithe, said: "I am just grateful for the time we had together.

"Linda was such a caring person, a wonderful woman. We never argued, we didn't fight, we just took each day as it came.

"When she died it was dreadful, we both said our goodbyes like you do. I said to her that she'll be going on a journey, and wherever you go, have a safe trip and one day I'll meet you again.

"All they said to me was that she didn't suffer, she just went, and at least she wasn't in pain."

In January the Reporter revealed that Lin was battling throat cancer at Guys Hospital in London. Mr Tiltman said it was because of the trauma the couple went through when their daughter was murdered in 1993 that she developed the disease.

"I still believe it to this day," he said. "The stress we were put through, that was why she got the illness. But even when we lost Claire, as a couple it made us stronger. It's weird how it happened. We got through it together somehow.

"I never know if I will find out who did it, she never got to find out, but I just hold to the fact that she is with her now."

Linda was originally from Abbey Wood, and met Cliff while on holiday. He added: "It was funny how it worked out, we met each other in Margate and we hit it off straight away.

"We got ourselves a little house in Plumstead Common, and then Claire came along so we had to move, and so we came here, and that is where we have stayed. She loved this house, she even whispered to me towards that I would promise to not sell the house. I guess it had so many memories. The couple married in 1972 with Linda working as a typist at an insurance company in London and then as a hairdresser in Dartford. "We used to go caravanning up in Norfolk every year, it was where we could get away from it all, I don't think I would ever go back."

Mrs Tiltman was moved to the Lions Hospice in Northfleet after her stay at St Guys Hospital, and she was deemed well enough to go home.

She was taken ill at home and then rushed to Darent Valley Hospital, where she stayed up until her death.

"It's weird, I got up this morning and made two cups of tea, I have been doing it for the last 30 years. But I have to get used to the fact she is not here anymore. They have taken my daughter and my wife, it's only me left now."

Lin Tiltman's funeral is due to be held at 11am on Monday, March 31, at Eltham Church.

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