One of Britain's most notorious serial killers, Donald Neilson, known as the Black Panther, whose savage murder of a teenage heiress repulsed the nation in 1975, has died in hospital.

The Prison Service said Neilson, 75, was admitted on Saturday with breathing difficulties and was pronounced dead the following day. He was serving five life sentences in Norwich jail.

Neilson started off as a petty burglar before turning to kidnapping and murder.

He was reported to have robbed over 400 houses, continually out-smarting police forces by changing the nature and pattern of the burglaries.

In 1974 Neilson broke into a sub-post office in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, and shot dead the sub-postmaster. He murdered two other postmasters in the same year in Lancashire and the West Midlands.

But the crime for which he became renowned was the kidnapping of 17-year-old Lesley Whittle, whom he believed had inherited 80,000 pounds. After her family failed to deliver a ransom, Whittle's body was found hanging underground in a drainage shaft in a park.

In December 1975, Neilson was arrested outside a sub-post office in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire. He eventually told police he had accidentally knocked Whittle off a ledge inside the drain and that had led to her death.

Nielson was given five life sentences in 1976 at Oxford Crown Court. In 2008 he unsuccessfully applied for a reduction in his original sentence.

(Reporting by Waqas Qureshi; Editing by Steve Addison)