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horror crimes Mum of murdered schoolgirl says killer must never be released again

'We have been saying for years he is not fit for society, he’s a danger and he’ll kill again,'

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James Junior Craig

James Junior Craig

James Junior Craig

THE mother of murdered schoolgirl Sonia Forsythe has questioned why authorities allowed her killer back on the streets despite him facing serious child sex abuse allegations.

Audrey Forsythe said she “can’t understand” how James Junior McKinstry Craig was given the green light for a phased release scheme in 2019, three years after two women reported the abuse to police.

On Thursday, the 49-year-old killer was convicted of multiple counts of historic sex offences following a two-week trial at Belfast Crown Court.

He carried out the abuse on the girls – who were both aged under 10 – in the years before and after murdering the Shankill Road teenager in 1991.

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Audrey with her daughter Sonia

Audrey with her daughter Sonia

Audrey with her daughter Sonia

The monster hid the 13-year-old’s body in a coal bunker outside his flat where it lay undiscovered for five years.

In 1998, he was handed a 21-year sentence for the brutal killing when a court heard how it was suspected that he had beat the defenceless schoolgirl to death with a poker.

For years, Audrey and her daughter Nikki have fought against his release, telling parole officers that Craig was too dangerous to be released back into society.

In 2019, they were left devastated to learn that the remorseless murderer was roaming the streets of Co Armagh after authorities placed him on a phased release programme.

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Audrey Forsythe with a picture of Sonia in the background

Audrey Forsythe with a picture of Sonia in the background

Audrey Forsythe with a picture of Sonia in the background

The heartbroken family were informed of the news by the Sunday World, who snapped him walking around a popular shopping centre and outside his new hostel digs, located just metres away from a children’s nursery.

Speaking yesterday, Audrey said prison and parole chiefs needed to explain how they came to the decision to release the twisted murderer after court revelations that two of his victims had reported the abuse to police in 2016.

“How did they think it was safe to release him in any way after, not one, but two women made these allegations?” Audrey told the Sunday World.

Predator

“We have been saying for years he is not fit for society, that he is a danger and will kill again.

“Each and every year he appeared before the parole board, myself and Nikki fought to keep him locked up. We told them he was too dangerous.

“They not only ignored this but released him with the knowledge he was facing allegations of abusing children.

“He is not only a child killer but a predator. What is devastating for us is to learn is that he was abusing these girls before and after he took Sonia’s life.

“How many other children did he target?”

Audrey added: “The court case is confirmation to us how Sonia died. Because he hid her body for all those years, there was little evidence of what exactly happened her.

“She had been found in the coal bunker half clothed. Sonia probably put up a fight.

“He took the innocence of those girls and he took the life of Sonia. And he will do it again.

“Last week was like being back in 1991, seeing Sonia’s picture in the press, his name plastered all over the media, journalists contacting me on the phone... it just brought it all back.

“What I would say now to the authorities is, don’t let him out again, lock him up and throw away the key.”

At Belfast Crown Court on Thursday, a jury unanimously convicted Craig of a string of child sex offences, including indecent assault and gross indecency with a child.

It followed a two-week trial in which his victims – both aged under 10 at the time – were forced to detail the sickening abuse after Craig denied the charges.

The first victim, who is now 40, recalled being sexually abused by Craig on dates between September 1985 and September 1989.

As she gave evidence, the woman revealed she went to the police in September 2016 when she made a formal complaint.

She told the jury “I knew what he was doing was wrong” and that she used to “tremble” with fear.

Craig’s second victim, who is now 38, was also abused by him as a child – both in his flat where Sonia was killed and in his car. That abuse took place on dates between July 1989 and July 1992.

In the witness box, she said that the abuse has left her with nightmares, flashbacks and panic attacks.

She recalled being taken by Craig in his car to wasteground at Ballysillan Leisure, where she was abused.

Last week Craig was called to the witness box, where he denied the abuse. As each of the woman’s allegations was put to him, he either replied “that didn’t happen” or “that’s made up”.

Craig denied being sexually attracted to young girls, and when asked about the claims made by the two complainants, he replied “none of them happened”.

Craig’s evidence was rejected by the jury, who returned guilty verdicts on two counts of indecent assault and three counts of gross indecent. They returned ‘not guilty’ verdicts on two specimen charges of indecent assault.

They had not been told of his previous conviction for murdering Sonia.

After returning the verdicts, the 11 jury members were thanked by Judge Stephen Fowler QC for the “careful attention” they gave to the case – especially during the current pandemic.

The judge then remanded Craig into custody for the sex offences, and said he would sentence him next month.

Sonia, a Girls’ Model pupil, went missing from her Sydney Street West home on June 30, 1991.

Her disappearance sparked a huge missing child probe and brought the entire Shankill Road community out on to the streets to find her.

She was last seen walking down the street with a then 19-year-old Craig who told police he’d left her to the front door of her Shankill home.

Her remains were only discovered five years later after Craig firebombed his flat in a bid to hide evidence.

Grim

Workmen tasked to clear the fire-damaged property made the grim discovery when moving the coal bunker.

A post-mortem revealed strong indents on her skull that matched the shape of a poker found inside Craig’s home.

A coroner concluded she had most likely been bludgeoned to death. In 1998 a jury unanimously found Craig guilty and he was sentenced to life imprisonment.

A tariff hearing ruled he had to spend at least 21 years behind bars.

Speaking to the Sunday World in 2019, Audrey recalled how during searches for Sonia, the heartless killer once laughed in her face as she begged him to tell her what he did to her little girl.

“He laughed in my face and said, ‘I don’t know, sure I left her home that night.’ I said to him, ‘you know where she is’.

“He’d told me before that so many times he’d seen her and left her up that night. After she went missing he said, ‘oh if I see her I’ll send her up to you’.

“His arrogance was astounding, and even when forensics were going through his flat, he stood outside watching them, smoking a cigarette, knowing that her body was there.

“He is evil and someone like that does not change. If he can do that once he can do it again.”

Audrey, who has immensely suffered, physically and mentally, since losing her eldest daughter said she fears Craig, who has never revealed why he killed Sonia, could strike again.

Pretended

“He doesn’t give a damn if his face is plastered over the papers because for five years he was able to walk about knowing what he did to Sonia,” she said.

“He even pretended to help look for her and appeal to help find her when she went missing.

“When relatives would go into the shop he worked in he’d ask them, any word on Sonia? And then handed them a few extra sweets.

“All that time he knew what he’d done. He knew her body was in that coalbunker.”

p.devlin@sundayworld.com

Online Editors


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