Belfast Telegraph

Maire Rankin murder: 'Grandmother sexually assaulted following killing'

Christmas Eve killing recalled in harrowing detail

By Deborah McAleese

An elderly grandmother was murdered with a crucifix in her Newry home and then sexually assaulted after saying her bedtime prayers, a court has heard.

Maire Rankin (81), was found dead in her Dublin Road home on Christmas Day 2008 after being subjected to a sustained assault which left her with a serious head injury and 15 broken ribs.

Mrs Rankin's next-door neighbour Karen Walsh is accused of murdering the mother-of-eight and using a crucifix to hit her in the face. She denies the charge.

A crucifix which used to hang over Mrs Rankin's bed was found lying on the floor beside her dead body. The figure of Christ was broken in two.

A post-mortem examination also found bruising to the pensioner which the prosecution claims may have happened during a sexual assault after her death.

Opening the case for the prosecution during the first day of trial at Belfast Crown Court, Liam McCollum QC warned the jury that they would hear "distressing and harrowing evidence".

Mr McCollum said that Walsh had gone to Mrs Rankin's house with a bottle of vodka for a Christmas Eve drink.

He said it appeared that the mother-of-one had sat on a "fragile and delicate" Mrs Rankin to carry out a "sustained" assault which left her with serious head injuries and broken ribs.

A daughter of Mrs Rankin, Aine Brodie, told the court that when she spoke to her mother on the phone at around 10.40pm on Christmas Eve she had not mentioned that she was expecting visitors.

"She was bright, chatty and bubbly. She was looking forward to Christmas with her grandchildren... She said prayers every night when she went to bed. She said she had completed her prayers. She said she was going upstairs to watch midnight Mass on the television. She was upset that she could not go to Mass because her back was sore," said Mrs Brodie.

Walsh has admitted going to the house on Christmas Eve night to have a drink with Mrs Rankin, but claims she spent half an hour there and when she left her neighbour was in bed.

Mr McCollum said, however, there was an "overwhelming" case against 45 year-old Walsh, including:

  • DNA evidence connecting her to the scene;
  • Phone records that show several attempts were made to contact Walsh's partner from a phone in Mrs Rankin's house between 7.31am and 7.38am on Christmas morning;
  • A description of a woman similar to Walsh sitting on the wall outside Mrs Rankin's house at around 7.30am on Christmas morning was given to police;
  • A lack of forensic evidence linking anyone else to the scene;
  • No sign of forced entry to Mrs Rankin's home.

"Is all of this just unfortunate? I believe there is an overwhelming case against her. The evidence constitutes a very powerful case against the accused. There is a very clear picture that Mrs Walsh murdered Maire Rankin," said Mr McCollum.

The case continues.

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