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Man who strangled Blackpool student and hid her body under the floorboards jailed again - for strangling his new partner

Rachel McLean, 19, who was killed by her boyfriend John Tanner
Rachel McLean, 19, who was killed by her boyfriend John Tanner

Just a day after being driven back to college by her mum, and just hours after ringing her grandmother to thank her for a food parcel, Blackpool student Rachel McLean was dead.

Throttled by her fiancé John Tanner, the 19-year-old’s body was hidden under floorboards in the bedroom of her lodgings in Oxford.

Tanner was deported after serving around 12 years in prison, and has since throttled his latest partner

Tanner was deported after serving around 12 years in prison, and has since throttled his latest partner

It was there the remains of the 5ft 6in tall, slim Rachel, who had shoulder-length ginger-auburn hair and brown eyes, lay hidden for 17 days as her possessive lover Tanner spun a web of lies to try and hide his awful crime.

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The New Zealander, who met the talented poet on the Fylde coast, even appeared on TV to plead for information on her whereabouts, before finally breaking down and confessing.

The then-22-year-old classics student was jailed for life in late 1991, but was deported in 2003 after serving around 12 years of his sentence, the Parole Board said this week.

And now he has been caged again, for punching and strangling his latest girlfriend – and threatening to kill her – according to The New Zealand Herald news site.

“She did not take that threat seriously,” Judge Philip Crayton said as he sentenced Tanner to two years and nine months for the attack, which happened at a motel in Whanganai.

The case echoes that of Lancashire woman Cherylee Shennan, who in 2014 was chased down a Rawtenstall street and knifed to death by her abusive partner Paul O’Hara, 16 years after he fatally stabbed his ex-girlfriend, reportedly only stopping when the carving knife’s blade snapped.

And it has shades of similarity with the murder of Blackpool Victoria Hospital nurse Jane Clough, who was killed by her partner Jonathan Vass in 2010 after he was arrested for her rape and bailed.

She died yards away from work, with 71 stab wounds.

Like Rachel, of Arundel Drive in Carleton, 26-year-old mum-of-one Jane, from Barrowford, kept a diary in which she voiced her panic at what her partner might do to her.

At Tanner’s trial, a 100-page file of letters written by Rachel was handed to the jury. Among the Oxford University undergraduate’s notes was a poetic Valentine’s card, and a Shakespearean sonnet.

But in her diary, she wrote: “Your passion consumes me. Sometimes I am afraid. We are welded. We are two molten metals made stronger by their unity. Apart we are useless.”

Her words were innocently prophetic. In a separate entry, she wrote: “I’m aware you have the capability to kill me with a word, whether you desire to or not. The balloon hangs above me like a ghost slowly deflating.”

Jane’s parents, John and Penny, channelled their grief into campaigning, most recently for the introduction of a stalker’s register, a petition for which almost 160,000 people have backed, alongside Pamela Dabney, whose daughter Kirsty Treloar was just 20 when she was stalked and stabbed to death.

Clare’s Law already gives people the right to ask police if their partner, or the partner of a close family member, may pose a risk, but the stalker’s register would allow police to monitor and track serial domestic abusers.

“Currently there is no existing framework which can track or monitor serial domestic violence perpetrators and stalkers,” the petition says.

“Rather than the perpetrator being effectively controlled and managed, oftentimes it is the victims who are forced to modify and change their behaviour and even flee their homes and disappear themselves in order to stay safe, which is unacceptable.”

Speaking of Tanner’s latest conviction, Penny said: “It really offends me when people are jailed, get paroled, and go on to hurt other people. A life sentence should be exactly that. If it’s not going to be, don’t call it one.”

She also called on more accountability in the justice system, and asked: “What is being done to ask ‘What went wrong? Why did we think this person was safe?’

“I dread the day that Vass will be released because I have no doubt in my mind he will be after somebody else.”

Former ambulance technician and bouncer Vass will be eligible for parole in 2040 when he is 60.

The Parole Board said cases are reviewed if a released prisoner goes on to commit another heinous act to see what lessons can be learnt.

The decision to grant parole is made after an informal court-style hearing, often heard inside prisons, by a panel that hears from a number of experts – and the convict themselves. They don’t always get the decision right.

While the number of domestic abusers who go on to commit murder are relatively rare, there was a 24 per cent rise in reported abuse last year, with 22,100 referrals – an average of 60 every day – to Lancashire Victim Services.

“It seems to indicate there’s more awareness and more confidence in coming forward, which is a real positive,” Dee Conlon, a manager there said.

But, since 2010, funding for refuges has been cut by almost a quarter, with hundreds of beds lost and vulnerable women turned away.

Some ninety-five per cent of refuge managers in England and Wales reported rejected women fleeing for their lifes, simply because they had no space.

Despite the unprecedented financial dire straits, laid bare in a special report in this newspaper last year, determined organisations are pressing ahead with their plans to provide specialist support workers to help abuse victims from isolated communities, such as those from ethnic minorities, men, and people with mental health needs or addictions.

Yet may be of little comfort now to the family of Rachel, who met Tanner at a birthday part at her home in the summer of 1990.

For three days, teacher mum Joan, BAE engineer dad Malcolm, and brother David listened intently as the Nottingham University denied murder, saying in a fit of rage he lost control.

When he realised she was dead, he wove an elaborate web of fantasy to block out the horror of what he had done.

He told the court she wanted to end their relationship and had been unfaithful, and added: “I have never resorted to violence in my life. I have never struck or been struck by another human being. I have always resorted to active debate.

“If that fails, I walk away.”

But in his latest crime, Tanner argued with his girlfriend and punched her with a closed fist, according to the Herald.

He also put both hands across her neck.

Later, his partner sent him a message saying their relationship was done. Tanner went back to the motel, demanded sex, and hit her again.

“Look what you made me do,” he shouted at her, the court heard.

Worryingly, a victim impact statement suggested Tanner’s partner wanted the relationship to continue, the Nottingham Post said, and to help Tanner get help with his issues.