The grandparents of a severely disabled teenager who died in 2001 following a “brutal assault” have been charged with killing her.
Almost a decade after 14-year-old Rebecca McKeown’s death, her grandparents, David (87) and Sarah Johnston (83), are due to appear before Belfast Magistrate’s Court today charged with manslaughter and child cruelty.
Court documents show that the husband and wife, from Carwood Drive in Glengormley, are both charged with unlawfully killing the child on March 24, 2001.
They are also charged with having “wilfully ill-treated and neglected” the teenager “in a manner likely to cause her unnecessary suffering or injury to health” while she was in their care on March 19, 2001.
Rebecca was born mentally and physically disabled, which meant that she had only developed the body of a six-year-old.
She was registered blind, was unable to speak and wore an incontinence pad.
An inquest, held in 2003, heard detailed evidence of events leading up to Rebecca’s death, but we cannot report them for legal reasons.
The hearing was told that Rebecca’s grandparents, David and Sarah Johnston, had been arrested as a result of the postmortem findings, but that they denied any wrongdoing and no charges were brought.
David Johnston was re-arrested in November 2001 on suspicion of grievous bodily harm, but consistently denied harming his granddaughter.
A file was sent to the Department of Public Prosecutions — now the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) — in 2002, but a decision was taken not to prosecute.
However, it is understood that the case was reviewed by the PSNI in 2008 and a fresh file was forwarded to the PPS. The PPS has since decided to prosecute David and Sarah Johnston.
Plucky Rebecca touched the hearts of thousands in 1998 when she and her mother Cheryl fronted a fundraising campaign.
They were at the forefront of the campaign to build Ireland’s first purpose-built children’s hospice.
The story of her fighting spirit and her heartbreaking condition touched people across Northern Ireland and led to fundraising on an unprecedented scale.