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Forger admits beating Cork student Karen Buckley to death with a spanner

Published 11/08/2015

Karen Buckley was murdered by Alexander Pacteau (Police Scotland/PA)
Karen Buckley was murdered by Alexander Pacteau (Police Scotland/PA)
Alexander Pacteau has admitted murdering Karen Buckley, from Cork (Crown Office/PA)

A convicted money forger has admitted beating Cork student Karen Buckley to death with a spanner then trying to dispose of her body using caustic soda.

Miss Buckley's parents travelled to Scotland to hear that Alexander Pacteau, 21, had pleaded guilty to their daughter's murder when he appeared at Glasgow's High Court.

A major search was launched for 24-year-old Miss Buckley when she was reported missing from the flat she shared with friends after failing to return home from a nightclub in Glasgow's west end in April this year.

Her body was found four days later in a barrel at a farm on the outskirts of the city.

Miss Buckley, a nurse who was studying for a post-graduate qualification at Glasgow Caledonian University, was seen on CCTV leaving The Sanctuary nightclub in the early hours of Sunday April 12 and the footage captured her talking to a man as they walked along Dumbarton Road.

The court heard how Pacteau, who has a previous conviction for printing counterfeit £20 notes, had met Miss Buckley outside the club in the early hours of the morning and drove with her in his car to nearby Kelvin Way.

The car was parked on the street for 12 minutes, during which time Pacteau, who describes himself as a "self-employed sales consultant", attacked and murdered her by grabbing her neck and delivering 12 or 13 blows with the spanner.

Miss Buckley suffered injuries to her arm as she tried to defend herself.

Pacteau's silver Ford Focus was captured on CCTV leaving the area and heading towards Dawsholm Park, where the following morning a member of the public found Miss Buckley's handbag near a bin.

Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland QC, prosecuting, told the court how Pacteau then drove to his flat and took Miss Buckley's body inside to his room.

At 8am he used his mobile phone to look up the properties of a chemical called sodium hydroxide, or caustic soda. He then locked his bedroom door and travelled to a B&Q store where he bought six litres of the chemical and masks and gloves.

He also went to a Poundstretcher store near his flat and bought more of the chemical.

He texted his flatmate to make sure he was out for the day, then returned to the flat and left Miss Buckley's body in the bath.

Pacteau was found cleaning the hall and stairwell when his flatmate returned home at around 8pm. He had moved her body into his locked bedroom again wrapped in a duvet.

Mr Mulholland told the court how Pacteau left his flat at around 5am the following morning and went to a bridge over the nearby Forth and Clyde Canal where he threw the spanner into the water.

He then drove to a supermarket and bought cleaning products and asked a member of staff to recommend a product for removing blood from a mattress.

Pacteau made his first journey to High Craigton Farm, an area familiar to him as he rented a storage unit there during a previous job selling fireworks, stopping off at a supermarket on the way to buy white spirit and a lighter, the court was told.

He burned some clothing while there before returning to his flat where he used his mobile phone to call a packaging company and order a large blue barrel.

Mr Mulholland said Pacteau collected the barrel and returned to Dorchester Avenue where he placed Miss Buckley's body in the barrel.

He then took the mattress in his car to the farmland where he burned it along with other items before returning to the flat and taking the barrel to his car.

He stopped off to buy padlocks at an Asda then made his way to the farm where he arranged to rent two storage units for a week before moving the barrel into one of the units, covering it with a sheet and placing a bike wheel and paper shredder on top.

Pacteau then visited a car valet on his way home, at around 4pm.

While waiting for the Ford Focus to be cleaned, Pacteau used his phone to create an advert to sell his car.

Police officers knocked on his door around two hours later after he was identified on the CCTV footage.

As he opened the door to the police, Pacteau said: "I was just coming to see you."

The officers noticed a strong smell of bleach in the flat and a tool box and other items in a bedroom.

Pacteau gave a statement saying he met Miss Buckley outside the club and they both went back to his flat where they had consensual sex.

He told police Miss Buckley had fallen and injured herself on the bed frame but he did not notice she had been bleeding until the following morning and when he realised police were looking for information regarding her disappearance he panicked.

He told them he had burned the mattress and clothes on a forest road because he was aware he was the last person to see her alive.

Meanwhile, police searching his flat found traces of Miss Buckley's blood.

When he was detained by police, officers recovered a hand-written note containing the account of what he had earlier told police.

The court heard how a witness had contacted police after reading that Pacteau was the last person to see Miss Buckley and told officers about the storage unit at the farm that Pacteau used in the past.

Police went to High Craigton Farm where they found the blue plastic barrel containing Miss Buckley's body.

The court heard how Pacteau, who sat in the dock with his head bowed, later told officers Miss Buckley had slapped him on the face when she was in his bedroom and he grabbed the first thing to hand to hit her and she died.

"Of course that is not the case," Mr Mulholland told the court.

Miss Buckley's disappearance sparked a major search and her parents Marian and John flew to Scotland to appeal for help in finding her.

"No words of mine can express the effect this terrible murder has had on the family," the Lord Advocate said.

Defence QC John Scullion told the court Pacteau accepted "full responsibility" for his actions.

"He has instructed me to convey on his behalf an apology to Karen Buckley's family and friends but he understands that such words are unlikely to give any comfort to them, and whilst I too recognise that nothing said on his behalf is likely to lessen the pain and suffering which he has caused to those who loved Karen Buckley, those are my instructions," Mr Scullion said.

The lawyer said Pacteau can offer no "rational explanation" for his actions but that he had said he was "extremely intoxicated" when he met Miss Buckley outside the nightclub and has a "limited recollection".

He said the pair spoke briefly in the street before driving off in his car with her in the direction of her flat, but shortly afterwards he said they had an argument over a "trivial" matter and he reacted angrily and lost his temper, Mr Scullion said.

He said Pacteau accepted his actions in trying to dispose of Miss Buckley's body were "despicable and beneath contempt".

Judge Lady Rae deferred sentence on him until September 8.

She told him: "This crime is a very shocking and disturbing case. You killed a young woman who was a stranger to you in what appears to be a motiveless, senseless, brutal attack."

Speaking outside court, Detective Superintendent Jim Kerr said there was no connection between Pacteau and Miss Buckley and that it had been a "random attack".

He said: "It could have happened to any female that night, we can't see anything from our investigation that would have predicted what he did on the night in question.

"We have no information as to why she got in the car, all we know is she left that nightclub to go home to the city centre and he headed off in the car in that direction."

Asked if Pacteau was waiting outside to prey on a woman, Mr Kerr said: "I think there was premeditated plan that night to find some victim, yes I do.

"He has been calculated and callous, you can see that from his actions after the event and what he did.

"They're complete strangers and he's made a concerted effort to destroy any evidence as to Karen's whereabouts. He had the opportunity at various times during this investigation to tell us exactly where she was and he didn't do that either."

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