Belfast Telegraph

Elderly couple to face trial over death of grandchild

A couple in their 80s must stand trial accused of killing their severely disabled teenage granddaughter 10 years ago.

David Johnston and his wife Sarah are each charged with manslaughter and cruelty towards Rebecca McKeown.

The case against them relates to allegations of serious injuries inflicted on the 14-year-old while in their care for a few hours in March 2001.

Rebecca's nappy was discovered to be covered in blood after she was collected from their |home, a preliminary inquiry hearing was told.

The child, who was born blind and unable to speak, died several days later.

A post-mortem revealed that she had suffered shock and extreme blood loss.

Mr and Mrs Johnston, aged 87 and 84, of Carwood Drive, Glengormley, Co Antrim, deny causing any harm to the child.

But a district judge sitting at Belfast Magistrates Court said she was satisfied there was a |case against both of them to |answer at trial.

Bernie Kelly said the injuries Rebecca sustained were extremely serious.

“In other words, it requires some force, some heavy trauma to sustain it,” she said.

“The medical evidence says as a result of that trauma, blood loss would have been virtually instantaneous.”

The judge added: “The amount of pain involved, while Rebecca |we understand could not talk |but nevertheless was capable of |indicating through sounds and facial expressions her lack of |comfort, there is no doubt |she would have made sufficient noise to have alerted another human being.”

The court heard blood was found on a settee and |on Mr Johnston's trousers. Once her injuries were discovered, Rebecca was medically examined and taken to the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children after her condition deteriorated, but the child subsequently died.

A forensic medical expert was unable to determine what had caused her injuries, but suggested they could have been due to some form of trauma.

She could not rule out that the injuries may have occurred before the child was taken to her grandparents’ house. Charges of unlawfully killing their granddaughter on March 24, 2001 and willful ill-treatment or neglect of her five days earlier were brought against the Johnstons following a review carried out by the PSNI in 2008.

After the judge ruled that the couple should be returned to Belfast Crown Court for trial on a date to be fixed, both declined to say anything in response to the allegations against them.

They were each released on their own bail of £500.

Belfast Telegraph


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