Sex killer jailed for murder of student at Wigan beauty spot

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Ellen Higginbottom, 18, as Mark Steven Buckley, 51, who murdered the student at a beauty spot, faces sentencing (Greater Manchester Police/PA)
Ellen Higginbottom, 18, as Mark Steven Buckley, 51, who murdered the student at a beauty spot, faces sentencing (Greater Manchester Police/PA)
14 September 2017 4:30PM

A sex killer who chose his 18-year-old victim at random as she walked alone in broad daylight through a local beauty spot has been jailed for life.

Mark Buckley, 52, prowled Orrell Water Park in Wigan, Greater Manchester, for up to nine hours on the lookout for lone females to subdue, sexually assault and murder before he overpowered A-level student Ellen Higginbottom.

The budding veterinary surgeon from Worsley went for a walk on the bright, sunny afternoon of June 16 after earlier revising at nearby Winstanley College.

She planned to return and meet up with friends who were sitting exams but instead she was dragged into bushes off a pathway by Buckley who cut her throat and strangled her in what was described at Manchester Crown Court as a "savage and brutal attack".

His victim, who was 5ft 4in and weighed just 5st 5lb, "simply did not stand a chance" as she was caught off guard by the knifeman, said Judge David Stockdale QC.

The Honorary Recorder of Manchester added that one of the aggravating factors of the "frankly chilling" case was that it was "plain" the killing took "some little time" and that death was not instantaneous.

Buckley had earlier approached three female dog walkers in the park and engaged in conversation with them before he walked away.

One of the women recalled he was clutching a green plastic carrier bag that was later discovered at the defendant's mother's home in Orrell.

Inside the Home Bargains bag were some of Miss Higginbottom's personal possessions, a length of rope, other pieces of ligature, an empty condom packet and sachets of sexual lubricant.

After the murder, Buckley returned to the park in the early hours of the following day and moved her body to a waist-height wheat field where he intended to bury her under the cover of darkness.

But he was thwarted as a police helicopter with heat-seeking equipment hovered overhead and he made off and left a spade at the scene before officers arrived on foot.

Buckley was arrested at his home in Preston on June 18 and admitted to police that he killed Miss Higginbottom but denied raping her despite her being found partially dressed and lying face down next down to a hedge with her lower back, buttocks and thigh exposed.

The Crown case's was that the murder was sexually motivated, although there was no forensic or scientific evidence to confirm a sexual assault took place.

Michael Hayton QC, defending, said Buckley accepted he had committed an "act of inexplicable wickedness" but his client could not offer any explanation for the murder.

Buckley, who appeared bored of the proceedings, was told he must serve a minimum of 31 years before he can be considered for release by the Parole Board. He pleaded guilty last week to her murder.

Miss Higginbottom's parents, Michael and Kay, did not attend the sentencing as Mrs Higginbottom is "gravely ill".

In a statement, Mr Higginbottom said: "We were tremendously lucky to have shared 18 years with her and everyone else who knew her will identify with that feeling.

"She made the world a better place with pretty much everything she said and everything she did.

"We all would have liked more though, and we would especially have liked for her to have had more. For her to have seen the results of all her hard work, for her to have seen her friends fly the nest as they went all to uni, for her to have explored the world that she was just growing into."