Belfast Telegraph

Police quizzed brother of Rebecca McKeown over her death, trial is told

By Victoria O'Hara

The brother of a severely disabled girl was arrested on suspicion of killing her when police reopened the case seven years after her death, a court has heard.

Rebecca McKeown, who was profoundly disabled, died of pneumonia on March 24, 2001.

Her grandparents, David Johnston (88) and his wife Sarah (86), from Carwood Drive in Glengormley, are on trial at Belfast Crown Court accused of killing the 14-year-old.

It is alleged Rebecca, who suffered from a number of medical conditions including cerebral palsy and scoliosis (twisted spine) died as a result of a sexual assault she suffered while being in their care on March 19.

During the third day of the trial it emerged her older brother Stewart, who was 16 at the time of her death, was the first person arrested by police in 2008.

Under cross-examination, her mother Cheryl McKeown, the daughter of the two defendants, said she had been left “shocked” after being informed the case was to reopen in 2008.

Under questioning by defence QC James Gallagher, she said police had called to her door without warning on January 23 that year.

She then underwent around three hours of taped interviews at Garnerville police station.

Mrs McKeown claimed she did not find out her son — now 27 — was to be arrested until after she had completed her interview.

The court had previously heard evidence that Stewart had returned home from a half-day at school on March 19, 2001. He was left alone with his wheelchair-bound sister for seven or eight minutes when Mrs McKeown walked to her parents’ house for a pair of hedge clippers.

She claimed that while she cut the

hedge her son and his friend sat outside on the wall.

The court heard that his fingerprint was found on the nappy Rebecca was wearing on the day she had been assaulted. Blood was discovered in her nappy later that night. Mr McKeown was never charged in relation to the death of his sister.

Mr Gallagher said that during the video interviews she tried “so far as possible to keep the finger of suspicion away from your son Stewart”.

Mrs McKeown, however, claimed she had no reason to protect him as “he did not do anything”.

She added that “he never had the opportunity”.

The court also heard that during an incident in 2006 Stewart had “tried to stab” his stepfather Steven.

Mr Gallagher read out to the court medical records of Mrs McKeown’s late husband, who died in March 2008.

They revealed Mr McKeown had said he believed his wife “always” sided with her son.

This was denied by Mrs McKeown. She went on to tell the court “what's not in that is that Steven had, out of the blue, which he did quite regularly, had just brutally beaten Stewart up, and had done so over many years”.

Mrs McKeown said there was conflict between her late husband and “every member of the family”.

The trial continues.

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