Belfast Telegraph

Rebecca trial hears of brother's convictions

By Paul Higgins

A man once suspected of murdering his severely disabled sister has multiple convictions, including assaulting and obstructing police, indecent behaviour and common assault, a court heard.

Stewart McKeown also pleaded guilty to breaking into a 71-year-old woman's house in 2002.

Mr McKeown was giving evidence at the Belfast Crown Court trial of his grandparents, Newtownabbey couple David Johnston (88) and his wife Sarah (86).

They’re charged with the man-slaughter of granddaughter Rebecca (14) on March 24 2001 and a further offence of child cruelty.

It was revealed during yesterday’s cross-examination that Mr McKeown was convicted of breaking into an elderly neighbour's first-floor bedroom after his fingerprint was found on the window.

The jury has heard that when the investigation into Rebecca’s death was reopened in January 2008, Stewart McKeown, who was 16 years old when his sister died, was one of the first people arrested and interviewed after his fingerprint was found on Rebecca’s blood-saturated nappy.

The cerebral palsy sufferer, who could not care for herself and had the body mass of a six-year-old child — died after contracting pneumonia which, according to the prosecution, came as a direct result of an alleged sexual assault at the hands of one or other grandparent.

The jury heard that a print from Mr McKeown’s right forefinger was found spanning two flaps of Rebecca's nappy.

Earlier, Mr McKeown said he was only alone with Rebecca when his mother Cheryl went round to his grandparents for hedge clippers. He estimated she was away for up to eight minutes but added that just after she left, a friend called round. The pair chatted in the living room as he ate lunch with Rebecca in the dining room.

Shortly after his mother returned, said Mr McKeown, both he and his friend left for the day.

That evening, after Rebecca was left with her grandparents, the family went on a fishing trip.

He told prosecuting QC Toby Hedworth he was only alone with Rebecca “for a minute or two at the most” and the only physical contact he had was to move her hair away from her eyes.

Mr Stewart accepted that police were called to the family home on numerous occasions and that he had taken various illicit drugs, but maintained any drug habit only started after his sister's death.

At hearing.

Belfast Telegraph


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