A WOMAN who saw her dad shot dead by one of Britain’s most notorious killers believes justice has been served after he was told he must die in jail.
Susan Astin, 47, was just 13 when her sub-postmaster father was gunned down by the notorious Black Panther – multiple murderer Donald Neilson.
Neilson, now 71 and serving four life sentences, last week applied to the High Court for the setting of a minimum jail tariff as low as 30 years, which would have enabled him to seek immediate parole.
But Mr Justice Teare ruled: "This is a case where the gravity of the offences justifies a whole life order. There were and are no mitigating features."
Susan said: "I really feel that justice has been done for my father. I’ve always had faith in the system and I knew once his killer was caught he would never get out."
Victim Derek Astin was the popular sub-postmaster of Baxenden Post Office on Manchester Road, living with his wife Marion, then 41, daughter Susan and son Stephen, 10.
On 6 September 1974, Susan woke at 4am.
Neilson, masked and dressed in black, had broken into the family home through a downstairs window, and had gone upstairs into Mr and Mrs Astin’s bedroom.
The couple had also woken and, protecting his family, Mr Astin tackled the Panther.
As he did, he was shot first in the shoulder and then in the back.
Although dying from his wounds, he managed to push Neilson downstairs. His upper left arm was blasted by shotgun pellets and he had been shot in the back with a .22 calibre bullet.
Shop worker Susan, who still lives off Manchester Road, Baxenden, near where the horror took place, said: "What I remember of that night is waking up to some very strange noises and feeling petrified.
"Once I got out of my bedroom I realised something was very wrong, so I ran back to my bedroom and hid."
Mr Astin, who had run the sub-post office for nearly five years, was formerly a joiner until an accident to his foot forced him to give up that work.
Susan, whose mum still lives in Baxenden, said: "My dad was just a normal happy family man who was liked by many people. He was always having a joke with his customers and putting a smile on their faces."
The murder sparked the biggest manhunt ever in East Lancashire, with a £5,000 reward offered for information on the killer.
It later turned out the Black Panther had also killed two other sub-postmasters in Harrogate and Nottinghamshire, as well as being guilty of one of the most chilling murders in the annals of British crime, the killing of 17-year-old heiress Lesley Whittle, who was found hanging naked from a wire noose in a drainage shaft of a Staffordshire park almost two months after she had been kidnapped.
The High Court judge added that during his reign of terror Neilson, who was 39 when convicted, "never set out without a loaded shotgun ... and never hesitated to shoot to kill whenever he thought he was in danger of arrest or detection."
The trial judge had said that in his view Neilson should never be freed "unless on account of great age or infirmity."
Susan, who has never married, said: "If I had a chance to speak to Neilson, I’d just ask him why? Why our sleepy post office?
"At the time we were told that he had been into our post office on a number of occasions to stake it out. I just don’t understand why he needed to kill."