A TRIPLE murderer convicted of killing his wife and children 27 years after they vanished has died behind bars.

Anthony John Allen protested his innocence to the end, claiming to be the victim of a miscarriage of justice.

But numerous attempts to clear his name over many years failed and a ruling was made that he must stay in prison until at least 2019.

Allen, known as John, was taken ill in Guys Marsh Prison in Shaftesbury and died of natural causes on August 8 after being admitted to Yeovil Hospital. He was 81-years-old.

An inquest into his death has been opened and adjourned in Bournemouth.

Allen, formerly of South Western Crescent in Poole, was convicted of the murders and jailed for life following a 12-day trial at Exeter Crown Court in December 2002.

The conviction came 27 years after his wife, Patricia, 39, and their two children, Jonathan, seven, and five-year-old Victoria vanished from the family home in Salcombe, Devon.

The court heard Allen did not report them missing and that nothing has been heard from them since 1975. Their bodies have never been found.

The prosecution claimed his motive was an ongoing affair with local restaurant owner Eunice Yabsley but Allen told the court his wife left after a row, then returned for the children two days later.

Allen was brought up in Bournemouth, attended Bournemouth School, and lived in The Avenue, Moordown, with his parents, Kitty and Jack. He spun a web of deceit over many years and once faked his own death.

In an exclusive interview with the Daily Echo while in Exeter prison in 2003, Allen strongly denied the murders and said he had been treated badly by the police.

He said: "Every aspect of this case stinks. If you had watched the trial on television, you would have said 'what a load of rubbish'. During the trial I had faith in the justice system and that nobody could find me guilty."

He said Pat and the children had left him and that he didn't initially search for them because of the bad feeling between them when she left.

He added: "I expected to get a card from the children at Christmas. When nothing came I made my own inquiries, including hiring a private detective. I couldn't find them.

"I still think about the children, particularly on occasions such as birthdays and Christmas."