Belfast Telegraph

Maire Rankin sex assault was staged, court told

By Anne Madden

A 45-year-old woman accused of murdering her elderly neighbour on Christmas Eve killed her in a drunken rage after she questioned her lifestyle, the trial heard yesterday.

Mother-of-one Karen Walsh denies beating to death 81-year-old Maire Rankin in her Dublin Road home in Newry, Co Down in 2008.

During cross-examination yesterday prosecuting barrister, Liam McCollum QC, accused Ms Walsh of beating the frail pensioner with a crucifix and then "staging" a sexual assault to make it seem like she'd been attacked by a man.

Ms Walsh, who had worked as a pharmacist in Dublin, repeatedly denied the prosecution's allegation.

Mr McCollum said: "She would have said to you 'you are ruining your life, you have a beautiful son next door, and a husband, what are you doing here in the middle of the night, on Christmas night?', but you were fuelled with drink and you didn't want this old lady telling you how to live your life.

"You pushed her and then grabbed the crucifix and started hitting her on the head."

Shaking her head, Ms Walsh said: "No, no. I didn't even see the crucifix."

Mr McCollum continued: "Then realising what had happened, you panicked because you had thumped her, beat her with a cross, you had killed her.

"That's when you began throwing things around the room to make it look like it was ransacked and carried out the sexual assault to make it look like a male had come in."

"No it's not," said Ms Walsh. "I could not have been nicer to her."

"You took her clothes off and that is why there's DNA consistent to you on her breasts," said the barrister, but again Ms Walsh refuted the allegations.

The court heard that seven phone calls were made from Mrs Rankin's phone and that apart from one or two different digits, they almost match Walsh's husband's mobile and office phones.

Mr McCollum put to Ms Walsh that in a "panic" at what she had done and thinking she was locked out of her own house, she tried to call her husband to get back in. "The evidence I suggest to you points to all these things having happened," said the barrister.

"That's the truth of the matter because when you analyse your story and this idea that you were running around looking for an inhaler it all goes up in a puff of smoke."

But again, Ms Walsh told him: "I could not have been nicer to Mrs Rankin. I was concerned about her because she was very wheezy."

After Ms Walsh finished giving evidence, the jury heard from the former Assistant State Pathologist for the Republic, Dr Declan Gilsenan. He told the court that in his opinion, Mrs Rankin died as a result of a cardiac arrythmia of her heart, brought on by the stress of the assault.

Dr Gilsenan described how large clumps of the pensioner's hair, including scalp, were found near her body suggesting her hair had been "very forcefully pulled".

The trial had previously heard evidence from Prof Jack Crane, the State Pathologist for Northern Ireland, who said he believed Mrs Rankin had been sexually assaulted but Dr Gilsenan disputed this, saying it was a "trivial" injury, possibly caused by her falling on to a piece of furniture.

Dr Gilsenan also told the court he believed many of her injuries, including the 15 rib fractures, occurred after her death and these were most likely caused by someone trying to resuscitate her.

The trial continues.

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