Black Panther moved to Norwich jail

Serial killer Donald Neilson, dubbed the Black Panther during his 1970s crime spree, looks set to die in Norwich prison as he enters the final stages of a terminal illness.

He was once one of Britain's most wanted men, presiding over a reign of terror which culminated in five murders.

Now serial killer Donald Neilson, dubbed the Black Panther during his 1970s crime spree, looks set to die in Norwich prison as he enters the final stages of a terminal illness.

Last night it emerged that the 72-year-old, who can no longer use his arms or legs, will be transferred to the Knox Road jail's elderly lifers unit within two weeks as he enters the latter stages of motor neurone disease.

Neilson will become the latest addition to a Who's Who of Britain's most notorious criminals to be held in the city.

Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs is currently held in the lifers unit which also housed gangland killer Reggie Kray and Britain's only convicted Nazi war criminal, Anthony Sawoniuk, before their deaths.

Neilson, who is said to be totally reliant on prison medics, is currently held on the hospital wing of Category A Full Sutton prison, near York.

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A prison source said: 'His deterioration has been rapid. Doctors say it's impossible to tell how long he's got. The thinking is that he would be lucky to see Easter.'

The killer is one of a small number of prisoners serving a whole life tariff - meaning they must die behind bars.

He became notorious during the 1970s following a campaign of brutal robberies and murders.

Neilson was born Donald Nappey but changed his surname as it made him a target for schoolyard bullies.

He became obsessed with army life and guns during his national service in Kenya, Aden and Cyprus.

Neilson began as a career burglar in order to supplement his income as a carpenter. He managed about 400 burglaries without being caught, but the financial returns were low so he turned to robbing sub-post offices.

Between 1967 and 1974 he carried out 19 robberies in Yorkshire and Lancashire, gradually becoming more embittered and ruthless.

He shot his first victim, postmaster Leslie Richardson, in 1972 but on that occasion his victim survived.

His first killing came in 1974 when he shot dead Harrogate sub-postmaster Donald Skepper. Two further murders followed within eight months as he took the lives of Derek Astin and Sidney Grayland.

Neilson's most notorious crime was the kidnap of Lesley Whittle in 1975. He planned the crime after reading a newspaper article outlining the �82,500 she had inherited following the death of her father.

The 17-year-old was abducted from the bedroom of her home in Shropshire wearing only a dressing gown while her mother was asleep in the house.

Within days of her kidnap she was taken to a drainage shaft where she is believed to have been kept tethered.

Neilson demanded a �50,000 ransom for her release. However, police bungles meant the money was never delivered and she was later found strangled in the shaft after apparently being pushed over the side.

In the course of the plot he claimed another life, killing security guard Gerald Smith after he challenged him in a railway yard which had been chosen for the ransom drop.

Police finally arrested Neilson after he was spotted acting suspiciously outside a post office in Nottinghamshire. Even then he attempted to hold two police officers hostage at gunpoint, only for them to overpower him.

They realised who he was when they found him carrying two panther hoods. When officers searched his Yorkshire home they found a model of a black panther.

Last year Neilson failed in an appeal to the High Court to have his minimum term reduced to 30 years, reinforcing the message that he must spend the rest of his life in prison.

He was diagnosed with motor neurone disease last year. The progressive illness has no cure and can kill within 14 months of the first symptoms.

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