24 Mar 19
The Scottish Sun
AS he carried his beloved bike down the stairs, Liz Neailey waved her son Wesley off as he left for the sweet shop, promising he’d be back before dinner time.
But within an hour, the 11-year-old had been abducted and lured to a derelict garage and strangled to death by 18-year-old Dominic McKilligan – a man who had befriended him.
Wesley Neailey was murdered by 18-year-old paedophile Dominic McKilligan in 1998
Mum Liz, 54, never suspected the teenager would ever harm him.
But when he disappeared while out riding his bike, she would find it was McKilligham, a convicted paedophile with more than 40 previous victims, who had killed Wesley and left his body in the Tyne Valley woods.
The devastated mother has shared her feelings of heart break two decades after Wesley’s death in the midst of a media storm over the disappearance of Madeleine McCann following the release of a new Netflix documentary.
And while her son’s body was found, she was never allowed to see it – telling the Sun Online that never saying goodbye to her son was her greatest heartbreak.
Wesley’s mother Liz told the devastating story of her son’s disappearance to the Sun Online
‘He said he wouldn’t be gone long’
Twenty years on, Liz remembers her loving, brown-eyed son Wesley for being kind, shy and, most of all, trusting of other people – factors she thinks ultimately led him to his death.
“Wesley used to lighten up a room with his smile,” she says. “He loved the sunshine, he was fun-loving – and of course he would always be making us laugh.
“But the one picture that will stick in my mind forever is Wesley walking down the stairs, carrying his bike and smiling, telling me he won’t be gone for long. I’ll have that stuck in my head forever.”
Liz says Wesley was a ‘kind, shy’ and ‘trusting’ boy as she remembers him twenty years on
“I met Dominic McKilligan at the side of the footie pitch once when I’d come looking for Wesley when he was late for dinner,” she adds.
“I didn’t know his age, but he was young looking, so I thought he was someone’s older brother.
“But I didn’t think anything of it with him being there – when he recognised me as Wesley’s mum he ran off to collect him for me so I didn’t have to climb the fence. He seemed like a normal young lad.
“But he was a paedophile – I had no idea. I didn’t have any idea until we sat down in the courtroom to charge him with Wesley’s murder when the magistrate read out his previous convictions. We were completely in the dark.”
Dominic McKilligan was a convicted paedophile, something Liz didn’t know until he appeared in court
The teenager was thought to have had over 40 previous victims
‘I thought he’d had an accident – not been taken’
Wesley had come home early from school on June 5 1998 after suffering a severe epileptic episode, so when he asked to go and buy some sweets to cheer himself up, Liz was happy to let him go.
“It was around 2.30pm, and he asked me for 50 pence to buy something from the shop – and I told him he could go as long as he went straight there and came straight back.
“He ran upstairs to get his bike, left the helmet on the bed and I watched him walk down the stairs and out the door – he told me he’d be back before his brother Robert needed collecting from nursery.”
When Liz had gone to and returned from picking up her younger son, and had already started preparing dinner for the family, Wesley was still nowhere to be found, and had not come home for his medication.
Liz started to panic when Wesley did not return home in time to take his medication for epilepsy
Panicking, Liz, who is the subject of the next episode of When Missing Turns To Murder, went from neighbour to neighbour looking – thinking that her playful son may be hiding out in one of his friends’ houses.
But as it approached 9pm, Liz called the police.
“I told the police Wesley was missing and they said he was probably just playing around,” she explains. “By this point, I was so scared he had fallen from his bike and was laying somewhere.
“I never suspected that someone had taken him – I just worried that there may have been an accident and that he was hurt. When the bike was found and returned to us and he wasn’t, that’s when I was afraid it was something worse.”
It would take the police 21 days to register Wesley, despite his tender age, as being abducted – three weeks that Liz recalls was torture for her family, who were out looking for Wesley day and night.
The police registered Wesley as missing 21 days after his disappearance
Liz admits she never suspected anyone had taken Wesley, but she worried he had fallen from his bike
‘His body had been eaten by animals’
Weeks after his disappearance, Wesley’s body was found in a remote area of woodland only miles away from his home – he had been struck over the head with a wrench, strangled and raped.
“I can’t remember the day the police came to say they found my son’s body,” Liz says.”I can’t remember if I screamed or cried, but I know I said I wanted to go and see him. But they said no.
“My dad insisted he wanted to look at his grandson in the eyes one last time, but the police said his body was completely unidentifiable. That animals, being animals, had eaten his body.
“The only way they could tell it was Wesley was because of the clothes left behind – and the shoes he had on which I’d tied the laces in double knots. That was the hardest thing I’d ever heard. All I wanted to do was cuddle his body, but I had that taken away.
Liz says that she couldn’t even see her sons body because it was so badly decomposed
The hardest thing for the mother-of-two to come to terms with was never seeing her son again
“In the pocket of the shorts he was wearing, which were on his decomposed body, they found the 50 pence I had given him for the sweets. That’s the only piece of my son I have left from those final moments.”
Meanwhile, the investigation had turned on McKilligan after his social worker spoke out about his terrifying history of sexually motivated attacks on many children.
A cheque was found in the teenager’s apartment which was addressed to Wesley, linking the two boys – and when McKilligan was put under pressure by the police, he confessed to the heinous crimes.
“McKilligan had even told a care worker that he wanted to murder my son,” Liz painfully recalls. “It was in his diaries – if someone had seen those diaries it would not have cost me my son’s life.”
On July 23, 1999, a jury at Newcastle Crown Court took under three hours to find him guilty, and he was jailed for a minimum of 20 years with his eligibility for parole beginning last year.
McKilligan eventually confessed to his crimes having beaten, raped and strangled Wesley before dumping his body
‘I feel for the McCann’s’
Liz says she resonates with other parents who are stuck in a painful limbo looking for their children, including Kate and Gerry McCann, who have recently found themselves the subject of a Netflix documentary.
“I really do feel for Madeleine McCann’s parents – obviously they must be going through torture,” she explains. “But I don’t think that Madeleine is dead, I haven’t had the same gut feelings like I did with Wesley.
“Wesley was followed by Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, and my heart went out to them and I knew something was wrong, but I haven’t felt that with Maddie.
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“Though you do have to question what mother leaves a child in a hotel room in a foreign country unattended – I can’t understand it at all, but I do feel their pain.”
When Missing Turns To Murder continues on Crime and Investigation channel (Sky 156, Virgin 275, BT 328 and Talk Talk 328) at 9pm on 25 March