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OAPs deny killing granddaughter

A couple in their 80s have denied the unlawful killing of their severely disabled teenage granddaughter a decade ago.

David and Sarah Johnston were yesterday formally arraigned before Mr Justice Hart at Belfast Crown Court where their trial is due to take place.

Mr Johnston, aged 87, and his 84-year-old wife, from Carwood Drive in Glengormley, are each charged with the manslaughter and cruelty towards their granddaughter Rebecca McKeown.

The 14-year-old, who was born blind and unable to speak, died in hospital on March 24 2001.

Five days earlier she had been in the care of her grandparents for a few hours.

No details surrounding her death or of the prosecution case against the pensioners were given in court. However, Mr Justice Hart commented that the case “will centre very much around the medical evidence”.

The couple, who have been released on continuing bail, deny the manslaughter of their granddaughter.

They also deny that they “wilfully ill-treated, neglected or exposed Rebecca McKeown to cause her unnecessary suffering or injury to health”.

Although a trial date has been fixed for the end of November, Mr Justice Hart said that since the estimated time of the case was up to five weeks, it may not be heard this year.

The judge was told that witness availability for the trial has already been established from November up to April of next year, and can therefore proceed anytime during that period.

David Johnston was first arrested in November 2001 on suspicion of grievous bodily harm, but consistently denied harming his granddaughter.

A file was sent to the Department of Public Prosecutions — now the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) — in 2002, but a decision was taken not to prosecute.

But following a review of the case by the PSNI, a file was forwarded to the PPS and a decision was taken to prosecute last year.

Belfast Telegraph