Belfast Telegraph

Home Life

Part one: Crime of passion and lies

The first of our exclusive two part extract from the book, The Bloody North, looks at the brutal slaying of beautiful young Penny McAllister. Her Army officer husband was having a sordid affair with Greenfinch, Susan Christie, the woman later convicted of the killing

Drumkeeragh Forest Park is in Co Down at the foot of Slieve Croob, the source of Belfast's River Lagan. It was in this beautiful and lonely place on March 27, 1991, that two women went for a walk with pet dogs, Monty and Barton.

Susan Christie was a private in the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) and Penny was the civilian wife of Captain Duncan McAllister, of the Royal Corps of Signals.

Sometime later Christie was seen by Eileen Rice, making her way to the car park with the two dogs. Mrs Rice had gone with her husband and two children to have a picnic in the forest because the spring weather was so pleasant. Susan's manner was strange and her progress uncertain. She babbled incoherently about an attack by a man in the forest and pleaded with the woman to "help Penny".

An ambulance took Christie to Downe Hospital in Downpatrick where she repeated her story that a wild bearded man had jumped out of the undergrowth and attacked them with a large knife. He lunged at Penny but Susan managed to escape (when) one of the dogs began barking and, much more effectively, she kneed the stranger in the testicles.

Four days after the murder, Captain McAllister rang the incident room at Ballynahinch and asked to speak to one of the detectives. They arranged to meet at Gough military barracks in Armagh where McAllister confessed that he had been having an affair with Susan Christie. In spite of being happily married, McAllister embarked on the risky affair in the spring of 1990 when Christie joined the sub-aqua diving club he set up. The young private was obviously attracted to the captain and blatantly flirted with him.

By early summer McAllister found himself relishing the flirting and began to respond in kind. During a diving expedition the two were temporarily alone on the boat while the others explored an old wreck. McAllister made no bones about his attraction but warned Christie that an affair would have to be secret as it could destroy their careers. He also emphasised that the attraction was purely physical and likely to be of short duration. Most importantly he told her that he had no intention of leaving Penny whom he loved dearly.

Christie seemed to accept these ground rules and the couple consummated the 'relationship' the following Saturday when Penny decided to forgo diving for shopping.

Christie's temperament was not ideal for the concealment of an illicit affair. She had a wilful streak and liked to be the centre of attention. She realised that her passion for McAllister was turning into possessive love which wasn't reciprocated. He continued to warn her that he would never leave Penny and that if she ever found out about their affair he would end it immediately. That autumn Penny found that she was pregnant. She kept the news to herself.

The diving club arranged a trip to Ascension Island in October 1990. McAllister was becoming more and more determined to bring the destructive business to a close. After the trip he attempted to end the affair but Christie made the usual scene and successfully seduced him again.

On November 2 McAllister was startled by a phone call from Christie saying she was pregnant. They met later to discuss the situation. There were three options: she could have an abortion, she could have the baby and not reveal the father's name, or she could make the affair public. McAllister preferred the first option: after the operation life would continue as before, both would keep their jobs and no one need find out. Christie eventually agreed to have her pregnancy terminated with emotional words about "killing the baby". Until the abortion could be performed McAllister felt he had to continue with the relationship. It was with some pained relief that he then heard she was in hospital after suffering a miscarriage.

Christie was an intelligent manipulator and a brilliant liar. One wonders now just how genuine the pregnancy was. Her return to health was swift but she was enraged when she heard that Penny had had a miscarriage as well.

Meanwhile, McAllister was deeply shocked as he hadn't known that his wife was even pregnant. He suddenly realised just how badly he had treated Penny and resolved to find some means of extrication without causing too much hurt to Christie.

A possible opportunity presented itself in the New Year. Christie was very ambitious. Her second dearest wish was to become a commissioned officer, but she lacked an O level pass in mathematics. She would have to go to Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire for an intensive three-month course from April to the end of June. McAllister was determined to make the break well before April but then continued to see Christie as winter turned to spring.

Christie begged him not to rashly break off their relationship and also began to make overtures to Penny. The walk through Drumkeeragh was part of this. During the second circuit of the forest, at the point farthest from the car park, Christie, who was wearing gloves in spite of the mild day, told Penny to walk ahead while she tied her shoelace.

Penny did so and Christie, taking a butcher's knife from the pocket of her tracksuit, imitated the simulated attack she had seen in her unarmed combat classes. She jerked Penny's head back with a lift of her left arm and slashed her throat, pulling the deeply imbedded knife towards her right ear. Penny died almost immediately. Christie stabbed herself lightly in the left thigh and ripped her underwear.

Once McAllister revealed his affair to the RUC, Christie became the chief suspect.

The detectives informed Christie that McAllister had told them about their affair. At first she stormed and blustered, denying everything but then, with a change of tactics, she insisted that McAllister and Penny had an " open marriage", so Penny didn't mind about her husband's affair. She also claimed that Penny had had many affairs with both officers and men. It did not take long for the police to confirm that she was lying.

Christie changed her story again, saying that her mind was a complete blank about the death of Penny. All she could remember was seeing Penny lying on the ground spurting blood from the wound in her throat but she could not have been responsible because "I would never do anything like that to Penny".

She maintained this position throughout her trial at Downpatrick court and never varied it.

The hearing began on Monday, June 1, 1992, more than 15 months after Penny's death and nearly two years from the beginning of the affair. When asked to plead she said she was not guilty of murder but admitted to manslaughter.

John Creaney QC, who led for the Crown, said that Christie's obsessive jealousy drove her to see Penny as an obstacle that must be removed.

On June 3, McAllister stood in the witness box and rarely looked near the dock where his mistress sat, her eyes full of tears.

The affair was examined in some embarrassing detail by Peter Smyth QC, Christie's lawyer, who referred to the disparity of their military ranks and the possibility that he created expectations in Christie's mind that he had no intention of fulfilling. McAllister insisted that he had always made it clear their relationship was an affair, based on mutual physical attraction, and little, if anything, else.

Pressed relentlessly by Smyth he finally admitted that he did tell Christie that he loved her.

The question of Christie's claim to be pregnant and of her apparently fortuitous miscarriage resulted in possibly the most insistent and embarrassing cross-questioning that McAllister had to endure. The three options were l isted and McAllister's responses analysed. What weakened his position and diminished him as an honourable man at the mercy of his own passions, was his constant returning to Christie.

Smyth seemed to have succeeded in persuading the jury (and Lord Justice Kelly) that Christie was desperate, that she had been treated abominably and misled by a heartless McAllister.

It was on June 8, a week after the trial began, when Susan Christie left the dock and climbed into the witness stand. The court was crowded with sightseers and the press. She described their first meeting when she first joined the sub-aqua club and of their mutual passion. She insisted that he had often told her that he loved her. She added that after her miscarriage they continued to make love.

Smyth led her to discuss the actual murder. He pressed her to respond to the accusation that she had killed Penny. She replied, "I accept it," but claimed that she remembered nothing of the actual deed and maintained that position throughout the trial and after.

Evidence of her mental state was given by forensic psychiatrist William Anderson Norris. He had studied her case thoroughly and examined her twice while she was in Maghaberry prison. His opinion was that her depression was mild and she was pretending that she didn't remember the details of the killing.

In his summing-up Lord Justice Kelly seemed to favour the defence.

He suggested that Christie was also a tragic figure and that, at the time of the killing, could have been in a condition of diminished responsibility. He told the jury that if they accepted the evidence of the psychiatrists for the defence they should find Christie guilty of manslaughter. If they accepted the prosecution's psychiatrists' evidence the proper verdict would be murder.

After three and a half hours the jury returned saying they could not reach a unanimous verdict. The judge replied that he would accept a majority one and, 30 minutes later, they found her not guilty of murder. The judge imposed a sentence of five years imprisonment which caused uproar in the courtroom - Christie would be free after eighteen months.

There was a storm of protest in Britain as well as in Northern Ireland. The Attorney-General's office examined the case and asked the Court of Appeal to review the sentence. The three appeal judges gave their opinions in November 1992. The senior judge, Lord Chief Justice Sir Brian Hutton, concluded that Christie had a very considerable degree of residual responsibility for the killing that made a sentence of five years unduly lenient. He told her that, by a majority decision, he and his colleagues intended to increase the length of her sentence from five to nine years. Christie was released in December 1995, having, with full remission, served nearly five years. McAllister never visited her in prison and she was dishonourably discharged from the Army.

The Bloody North: Infamous Ulster Murder Cases by Sean McMahon, The Brehon Press, £7.99

Belfast Telegraph

Daily News Headlines Newsletter

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox.


From Belfast Telegraph