Harrogate man’s murderer dies

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THE man who murdered a sub-postmaster in Harrogate almost 40 years ago has died.

Donald Neilson, 75, died in hospital on Saturday after being taken from Norwich Prison with breathing difficulties the previous day.

He was given four life sentences in 1976 for murdering four people - beginning with Harrogate’s Donald Skepper on February 15, 1974.

The attack shocked the town and led to an extensive police investigation, including searching local rivers, the Stray and the Skipton Road area close to the post office, which was in the New Park area.

At the time, the Harrogate Herald said: “The killer broke into the post office as Mr and Mrs Skepper, and their son Richard, 18, slept.

“Richard, it is believed, awoke to find the man binding and gagging him with sticking plaster.

“At gun point he was forced downstairs and the safe keys were demanded. When Richard could not find them he was forced to take the raider to his parents’ bedroom. Mr Skepper was awakened and as he was getting out of bed a single shot was fired wounding him in the chest.

“He fell back into his wife Joanne’s arms and died. It is reported that they tried unsuccessfully to give Mr Skepper the kiss of life.

“Police were called to the combined sub-post office and shop soon after 5am following a 999 call from Richard.”

Mr Skepper, 50, was a popular member of the community, having been secretary of the New Park Residents’ Association and an active member of the Bar Methodist Chapel.

As well as his wife and youngest son, Mr Skepper was survived by two older children, Judith, 24, and Andrew, 22.

Neilson, a former lance corporal with anti-terrorist training, began his criminal life by carrying out numerous burglaries, before turning to armed robberies at post offices.

His black hood and the speed of his attacks earned him the nickname the Black Panther.

As well as Mr Skepper, Neilson murdered two more sub-postmasters in 1974: Derek Astin in Accrington, Lancashire, on September 6 and Sidney Grayland in Langley, West Midlands, on November 11.

His final attack was the kidnap of 17-year-old heiress Lesley Whittle in January 1975. He took her from her Shropshire home, leaving ransom notes demanding £50,000 for her safe return, but Lesley’s body was found in a drainage shaft in Staffordshire seven weeks later.

He remained on the run for nine months before two police officers and a passer-by saw him acting suspiciously near a sub-post office in Mansfield and managed to overpower him despite his double-barrelled shotgun.

In 2008, 32 years after his conviction, a High Court judge ruled he should never be released.