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Couple got away with murder for 16 years, court told

Edward Cairney, 77, and Avril Jones, 59, are on trial at the High Court in Glasgow.

The trial began seven weeks ago (John Linton/PA)
The trial began seven weeks ago (John Linton/PA)

A couple accused of killing a “vulnerable” woman “literally got away with murder for 16 years”, a court has been told.

A prosecutor made the statement as he invited jurors to convict Edward Cairney and Avril Jones of murdering “friendless and lonely” Margaret Fleming almost two decades ago.

Iain McSporran QC, for the Crown, claimed that money was the motive behind the “terrible” crime, with “greed, arrogance and lies” ultimately leading to their appearance in court.

He spoke of an “elaborate scheme” to conceal her disappearance, saying: “Their lies tell you not only that they are liars, they tell you why they lied – to cover up a death.”

Money, the Crown says, is the motive behind the crime far more terrible than benefit fraud. Iain McSporran

Cairney, 77, and Jones, 59, are on trial at the High Court in Glasgow where they are accused of murdering Ms Fleming by unknown means between December 18 1999 and January 5 2000 at Seacroft in Inverkip, Inverclyde, or elsewhere.

Jones is further accused of fraudulently claiming £182,000 in benefits by pretending that Ms Fleming – who was reported missing in October 2016 – was alive.

The deny the allegations against them.

Mr McSporran gave his closing speech to the jury on Wednesday after all the evidence was led in the case.

He told them: “I seek to persuade you, based solely on the evidence you have heard… that Edward Cairney and Avril Jones bear joint responsibility for the murder of Margaret Fleming – a young girl with significant difficulties who had joined their household following the death of her father and the apparent inability of her mother to look after her.”

He said the household had financial difficulties and that applications were made and approved for various benefits for Ms Fleming.

“That money is coming in whether Margaret is around or not,” he said.

“Money, the Crown says, is the motive behind the crime far more terrible than benefit fraud…

“Greed for money and the ease with which this friendless and lonely girl could be made to vanish from the face of the earth led to her murder.”

He told the jury that the evidence points to Ms Fleming, who would now be in her late 30s, having been dead since December 1999.

“The Crown say the evidence points to her being murdered and the people who murdered her are the very people charged with looking after her,” the QC said.

“They set up an elaborate scheme to conceal her disappearance, fabricate a story together to explain her absence, to maintain that false pretence in frankly the most farcical and absurd manner.”

He continued: “They literally got away with murder for 16 years. Your verdict, you would be entitled to conclude, is that they should not get away with it for any longer.”

Mr McSporran told jurors that Jones made claims of Ms Fleming having “fantastical” illnesses and conditions in correspondence with benefits officials.

“Her greed led to their downfall,” he said.

The advocate depute told jurors that Ms Fleming had been “erased” from the house and their lives, and said the couple laid a “false trail to explain her absence”.

“Greed, stupidity, carelessness and bad luck, all these things combined to allow you to see what happened to poor Margaret Fleming. and how often and desperately and how defiantly the accused have denied the obvious truth,” he told the jury.

Mr McSporran said they could conclude “that these two people, acting together for mutual benefit, murdered Margaret Fleming”.

He invited them to find that Cairney murdered Ms Fleming and subsequently attempted to defeat the ends of justice, and that he was assisted in that course by his long-term partner Jones.

The jury is expected to hear speeches on behalf of the defence on Thursday.

The trial, before judge Lord Matthews, continues.

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