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Stone mason quizzed on three deaths


Latest news from Northern Ireland

Latest news from Northern Ireland

Latest news from Northern Ireland

A stone mason continues to be held over the suspicious deaths of three of his former girlfriends in a rural town in Northern Ireland as police issued a new appeal for information.

Leslie Ross, 66, from Dromore, Co Down, was detained in the quiet market town in connection with the three fatal incidents over a 10-year period.

Michelle Bickerstaff, 47, died in April last year; Margaret Weise, 50, in August 2007 and Lily McKee, 52, in December 2002.

It is understood two of the women died after suffering physical injuries, with officers working to establish how they were caused, with the other death attributed to organ failure.

Mr Ross, from Meganlis Park, not far from the town square, was arrested last year in the wake of Ms Bickerstaff's death but was released unconditionally.

The latest move by police comes after detectives carried out a review of the three separate cases.

The families of the three women have been informed about the arrest.

Mr Ross, who was taken to Antrim police station for questioning, is also being quizzed about other offences relating to other women.

Jenny Dickson, the only daughter of Ms McKee, said her mother was in a relationship with Mr Ross for 11 years.

"I know that the police have been working hard with these cases and I am not prepared to give any details as I would not want to jeopardise their inquiry and we want to see justice," she said.

She described her mother as fun and active, kind with a good sense of humour. She did charity work and supported the Ulster Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

"She was a great person," she added.

She said her mother maintained her own flat in the town but lived with Mr Ross from time to time. She was divorced.

The investigation was originally headed up by district-based detectives from the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) but last night specialist officers from the PSNI Serious Crime Branch took the lead.

Detective Chief Inspector Richard Harkness asked anyone in Dromore with knowledge about the deaths to contact officers.

"People may have been reluctant to come forward in the past but I can assure you that any information given to the police will be treated in the utmost confidence," he said.

"Your information could provide us with the vital link to enable us to bring this investigation to a successful conclusion."

Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson, who knew Ms McKee and Ms Bickerstaff, said the community was in shock.

"Dromore is one of the oldest towns in Northern Ireland and nothing like this has ever happened in the history of the town," he said.

Mr Ross was said to frequent a number of bars in Dromore, including the Market Bar.

One local at the Market Bar said he was a well-known face.

"I also knew all three of the women," he said. "They had their problems in life."

It is understood Mr Ross's family owned a bar in Castlewellan, which was blown up during the Northern Ireland troubles.

Relatives moved to Rathlin Island off Ireland's north coast.

Mr Ross later moved to Dromore, where it is understood he lives alone in a white-painted terraced house. Yesterday there were signs of graffiti having being painted over the property.

Neighbours said he once owned a bar in the area, since demolished, and also had interest in other properties further afield.

"He is quiet and keeps himself to himself. He lives alone," said Barbara Boyd, 54.

Ms Bickerstaff, a mother-of-four, was a regular at the Drop Inn shop on the town square where she came to sift through rails of clothes or for a chat with staff.

She would also visit a charity cafe run by volunteers in the centre of the town.

"She was a nice woman, she would have been in here regularly," one shop assistant said.

Kenneth Spratt, a bystander in the town centre, said he knew the women well.

"They were good, lovely women," he said. He added: "They were all fun girls".

Democratic Unionist Mr Donaldson said relatives of the women would need support in the period ahead.

"The community in Dromore is very close and tight knit, and the community is shocked by the news today," he said.

"My first thoughts are with the families and we will be bearing them up in prayer and I know the community will offer all the support they can to each family."

Detectives urged anyone with information to contact detectives on 028 3831 5339 or alternately through independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.