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Jurors in Margaret Fleming case sent home for the night

They will return to the High Court in Glasgow on Friday to continue their deliberations.

Prosecutors allege that Margaret Fleming was murdered between December 18 1999 and January 5 2000 (Police Scotland/PA)
Prosecutors allege that Margaret Fleming was murdered between December 18 1999 and January 5 2000 (Police Scotland/PA)

Jurors in the trial of a couple accused of murdering a missing woman more than 19 years ago have been sent home for the night.

Edward Cairney and Avril Jones have been on trial at the High Court in Glasgow for the last seven weeks, where they are accused of murdering Margaret Fleming, who has allegedly not been seen for almost two decades.

Cairney, 77, and Jones, 59, deny murdering her by unknown means between December 18 1999 and January 5 2000 at their home in Inverkip, Inverclyde, or elsewhere in Scotland.

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

The 15 men and women of the jury began considering their verdict on Thursday afternoon after hearing submissions from both defence lawyers and legal directions from judge Lord Matthews.

After just over an hour of deliberations, they were sent home and told to return on Friday morning to continue their discussions.

Lord Matthews said it had been a long day and he did not want them to feel under any pressure. He stressed that they must not speak to anyone else about the case.

I intend to argue that it has not been proved beyond reasonable doubt that Margaret Fleming is dead. Thomas Ross QC

Earlier, the jury was told that Ms Fleming “could turn up alive next week” and that this was a case involving no body, no crime scene and no evidence of a violent confrontation.

It was claimed it has not been proved beyond reasonable doubt by the Crown that Ms Fleming is dead and they were urged to acquit the accused.

Thomas Ross QC, for Cairney, said: “You were invited to convict Edward Cairney of the murder of a person who could turn up alive next week, or next month, or next year.

“The advocate depute has invited you to convict Edward Cairney of the murder of a person whose remains could be found in a squat in Newcastle or upon a riverbed near Manchester next week, or next month, or next year, in circumstances consistent with a recent accidental death.”

He said Ms Fleming went to live at the home of the accused after the death of her father when she was a teenager and because those closest to her “didn’t want her”.

“I intend to argue that it has not been proved beyond reasonable doubt that Margaret Fleming is dead,” he said.

“But whether she is or she isn’t, it would be impossible not to feel some sympathy for the emotional poverty of her childhood.

“But sympathy is felt in the heart and the important task that lies before you has to be performed by the head.”

Mr Ross told jurors that Cairney’s presentation when he gave evidence in his own defence is “unlikely to have improved your opinion of him”.

He told them: “I have to be alive to the possibility that by now some of you may not like Edward Cairney, but… it would not be just to convict him because you do not like him.

“As judges, you have to do very much better than that.”

He told jurors that the prosecution case falls if it is not proved that Ms Fleming died during the time alleged, and he urged them to return a verdict of not proven in the case.

Ian Duguid QC, representing Jones, told the jury they should not be blinded by prejudice or sympathy for anyone in the case and should not become involved in speculation or guess work.

“My submission is you’re being asked to do a lot of guessing if you’re going to convict Avril Jones of murder,” he said.

He said the cases against the two should be assessed separately, saying: “They don’t stand and fall together.”

Mr Duguid said the essential consideration for the jury is whether Ms Fleming is dead.

The QC said: “This is a case where there is no body.

“This is a case where there is no crime scene, a case where there is no evidence of a violent confrontation.

“There is no evidence of a murder weapon.

“There is no evidence of how she died, there is no evidence at whose hands she died.”

He added: “In my submission to you, the prosecution have fallen some distance short in trying to establish that this lady, Avril Jones, is a murderer.”

The trial continues.

PA

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