Sadistic killer stalked his teenage victim with intention of committing brutal sex attack

Officers who attended the scene of Ellen Higginbottom's murder described it as one of the most horrific they had ever seen.

Ellen Higginbottom
Ellen Higginbottom

It is now known that Mark Buckley, of New Hall Lane, Preston, was stalking his teenage victim with the intention of launching the most brutal of sexual attacks.

The 18-year-old Winstanley College student fought bravely in vain to keep her crazed assailant at bay but he killed her with a number of blade injuries to the neck and throat.

Police at Orrell Water Park where Ellen's body was found

It was a violent death that caused widespread shock and revulsion, making national headlines as details of Ellen’s disappearance and then the discovery of her body at Orrell Water Park were disclosed.

The alarm had been raised by concerned family on Friday, June 16, when she failed to return home in after college. It was completely out of character and so police launched a search.

It was in the early hours of the following morning that officers found the young woman’s remains on a field adjoining the popular visitor attraction.

Police immediately launched a murder inquiry with Det Supt Howard Millington offering his condolences to her devastated family and appealing for anyone with information to come forward.

Flowers at the scene

One line of inquiry was that two suspicious-looking men had been spotted following students through the water park 24 hours earlier.

A post-mortem examination was carried out by a Home Office pathologist at Royal Oldham Hospital and Ellen was formally identified at the hospital by her uncle Philip David Higginbottom.

An inquest was later opened at Bolton Coroner’s Court then adjourned pending further criminal investigations.

Ellen’s boyfriend, Ryan Warren, who was in court yesterday to hear the murderer’s guilty plea, took to social media soon after her death to write: “Ellen, the past two years of knowing you have been the best years of my life.

Tributes at Winstanley College

"I am so incredibly honoured to have been such a big part in your life. I have made so many amazing memories with you that I will forever cherish and will remain in my heart.

“You have been my rock when I needed someone to keep me down to earth, but also let me spread my wings when I needed to, a shoulder for me to cry on.

“I honestly would not be the man I am now if it wasn’t for you. You were my nugget, my beautiful girl and I loved you. Everyone loved you, I’m so sorry that the world has taken you far too young when you had so much to give to everyone.”

And her grandfather Derek Goldstraw, 80, told how he used to visit Orrell Water Park with Ellen when she was a little girl and how the memories now brought back floods of tears.

Police at Orrell Water Park where Ellen's body was found

Mr Goldstraw, who lives in Stoke on Trent, said: “We’re all so heartbroken - our angel has been taken from us.”

He described the student as a beautiful and talented girl “who lit up our lives”.

In all police would make four arrests in the following weeks in connection with the murder, including 51-year-old Billinge man Mark Steven Buckley, who had lately been living in Preston. The others were arrested on suspicion of trying to help him cover up the hideous crime.

Last month grieving family gathered at Altrincham Crematorium to pay tribute to Ellen.

At her close relatives’ request, the teenanger’s A-level results at Winstanley College were not disclosed along with everyone else’s.

An Independent Police Complaints Commission inquiry is now under way, examining whether Greater Manchester officers acted in accordance with guidelines when responding to Ellen’s disappearance.

Flowers at the scene

This is a routine procedures in such circumstances and the IPCC stresses that it is not the result of a complaint.

A number of charity events have been since held in Ellen’s memory.

Tributes at Winstanley College