He married in April 1955 at the age of 18, and changed his surname from Nappey to Neilson in 1960, on the birth of his daughter Kathryn, to prevent her from suffering the humiliation that he had endured at school and in the army.
A jobbing builder in Bradford, West Yorkshire, Neilson turned to crime when his business failed. It is believed he committed over 400 house burglaries without detection during his early days of crime. Proceeds were low, however, which resulted in him turning to robbing small post offices. Already having fatally shot three sub-postmasters in post office robberies, the Whittle case made him Britain's most wanted man in the mid-1970s.
Neilson was ultimately caught and sentenced to life imprisonment in 1976 for the murders of Whittle and three sub-postmasters. Gerald Smith, another of Neilson's victims, survived his attack for more than one year, therefore murder charges could not be brought against Neilson due to the law at the time.
On January 14 1975, Whittle was kidnapped from the bedroom of her home in Shropshire, England. Neilson demanded a £50,000 ransom from her family for her release. Her mother was asleep in the house at the time. The kidnapper had read that Whittle had been left a considerable sum of money (£82,000 - almost half a million pounds compared to 2007 figures) by her late father George (who died in 1967 at the age of 62), who ran a successful coach company, one of the largest in the country, based at Highley and Kidderminster.
A series of police bungles and other circumstances meant that Whittle's brother Ronald was unable to deliver the ransom money to the place and time demanded by the kidnapper, who, it is widely believed, pushed Whittle off the ledge in the drainage shaft where he had tethered her in Bathpool Park, at Kidsgrove, Staffordshire, strangling her. Whittle's body was found on March 7 1975, hanging from a wire at the bottom of the shaft.
He ordered them to drive to Blidworth, six miles away. As they were driving along Southwell Road the gunman asked if they had any rope. As White pretended to look, he saw that the gun was no longer pointing at his companion; he pushed the gun up and Mackenzie stamped on the brake. They were outside 'The Junction Chip Shop' in Rainworth and called for help. The gun went off grazing White's hand. Two men ran from the queue outside the fish and chip shop and helped subdue Neilson. The locals attacked him so severely that in the end the police had to protect him.
They handcuffed Neilson to iron railings at the side of a bus stop, and when they found two Panther hoods on him, they realised that they had probably caught the most wanted man in Britain. This was confirmed when his fingerprints were found to match one of those found in the drain shaft with the body of Lesley Whittle.
Neilson was sentenced to life imprisonment in July 1976 for the murder of Whittle, three sub-postmasters and the attempted murders of a security guard and a police officer. The trial judge recommended that Neilson should never be released unless he lived to a great age or endured infirmity. He has since been confirmed on the Home Office's list of prisoners issued with whole life tariffs, as a succession of Home Secretaries have ruled that life should mean life for Neilson. The European Court of Human Rights legislation saw politicians lose that power in November 2002.
In 2008, Neilson applied to the High Court to have his minimum term reverted to 30 years. On June 12 2008, however, Neilson's appeal was rejected, and he was told by the court that he will have to spend the rest of his life in prison.
Now in his seventies, Neilson continues to serve his sentence at HMP Full Sutton and remains one of Britain's longest-serving prisoners.
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