Belfast Telegraph

Charlotte Murray's family’s fight for justice is over... but there will be no closure until they can bring her home

Charlotte Murray'stwin sister Denise, at Dungannon Crown Court after a jury had unanimously found chef Johnny Miller 'guilty' of murdering her
Charlotte Murray'stwin sister Denise, at Dungannon Crown Court after a jury had unanimously found chef Johnny Miller 'guilty' of murdering her
Murder victim Charlotte Murray’s twin sister Denise reacts outside court yesterday
Family embrace outside court after the verdict
Charlotte Murray with her twin sister Denise
Leona O'Neill

By Leona O'Neill

For the family of murdered Charlotte Murray, this anniversary, although just as heartbreaking, will be different.

This year, seven years from when the 34-year-old Omagh woman was last seen, they finally have justice.

But they do not yet have closure because Charlotte's body has never been found.

Yesterday, just three weeks shy of the seventh anniversary of her death, a jury reached a unanimous verdict that Coleraine-born chef Johnny Miller killed his former girlfriend between October 31 and November 2, 2012.

Charlotte and Miller had worked together in the Cohannon Inn and had been engaged to be married when she disappeared.

During the trial, the prosecution claimed 48-year-old Miller killed Charlotte in a murderous rage after she sent him explicit images of herself in the arms of another man.

Throughout the court case, as Charlotte's family at times wept in the public gallery, Miller fiercely maintained his innocence, saying that he did not kill her or indeed believe she was dead at all.

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During the trial the killing was described as a "cold, calculated murder".

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Family embrace outside court after the verdict

Traces of Charlotte's blood were said to have been found in the house the couple shared.

Miller was in the witness box for four days, facing what his lawyer would describe as "brutal cross-examination".

He insisted he did not kill Charlotte, stating: "I didn't kill her, I definitely know that ... no chance."

He said he hoped Charlotte would "walk through the door some day and sort all this out".

He told the court that his former fiancee had suffered with depression in the months before her disappearance and had "almost daily suicidal thoughts". He said she had "wanted a new life".

He told the court: "I never hurt her, never lifted my hand to her, never hit her. I know that and I'm telling the truth."

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Charlotte Murray with her twin sister Denise

He later stated: "Until the day there's a body found, she is still alive to me - and that's the truth".

Miller's defence lawyer told the court that they could not be sure beyond reasonable doubt that Charlotte was dead, a claim which saw her twin sister Denise, who has long been Charlotte's voice in the fight for justice, leave the courtroom, visibly upset.

Lawyers for the prosecution argued that Miller had murdered his former love because he had been "lied to, betrayed and cuckolded", and on the morning she was last seen had emailed him pictures of herself having sex with his friend.

The prosecution claimed Miller knew what happened to Ms Murray, how she died and where her body is.

Prosecution lawyer Richard Weir QC at one stage read out a segment from Miller's diary to the court.

"Someone knows something about her disappearance," Mr Weir, pointing to the dock behind him, said. "There he is, he knows something, he knows what happened to Charlotte Murray. He knows how she died and where her body is."

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Convicted killer Johnny Miller

Another diary entry read "you simply can't disappear". But you can, continued the QC, "when you are killed and your body is disposed of as has happened to Charlotte Murray in this case".

"He knows that you can just disappear because he knows he killed her and concealed her body," he declared.

The prosecution claimed Miller had tried to "lay a false trail" by using Charlotte's phone to send messages in the weeks after her disappearance and posting on her Facebook page that she "had to leave".

During the trial it was claimed that three weeks after her disappearance Miller dismembered and disposed of her body using an axe and a saw he had bought online for the gruesome task, not as a Christmas present for his father, as he had claimed.

Miller told the court that his search of the B&Q website for double-headed axes and a saw was carried out on behalf of his father.

The defendant's father Patrick Miller said in his evidence that he and many in the family had been employed in the forestry industry and confirmed he had a collection of tools.

Patrick Miller also agreed his son had been trying to get him a blade to complete a bow saw, and while he had been unable to find the part, his granddaughter eventually had.

He further claimed his son was also aware he wanted "an American double axe".

Yesterday Miller shook his head, trembled and cried as he was found guilty.

His family looked on from the public gallery in shock. Nearby, Charlotte's family wept and embraced.

Charlotte, originally from Omagh, was reported missing from the home she shared with Miller in Roxborough Heights in Moy in May 2013.

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Murder victim Charlotte Murray’s twin sister Denise reacts outside court yesterday

She left behind her dog Bella and her Peugeot car, which Miller later sold.

Her computer, mobile phone - which police believe contains valuable evidence - and an engagement ring she had bought before proposing to Miller in March 2012 remain undiscovered.

Charlotte's engagement ring was key to the police investigation. Miller admitted looking for pawn websites to sell the ring but claimed it was because of the explicit pictures he had been sent.

However, the timing of the emails revealed he had carried out the searches around 13 minutes before the images were actually sent.

Charlotte had not been in contact with family or friends since the previous autumn.

Appeals for information as to her whereabouts were put out by police and her family in the summer of 2013 as the matter was still being treated as a missing persons investigation.

In May 2013 Miller even shared a local newspaper article on social media, writing: "Someone must know where she is, please help."

Charlotte's eldest sister and brother told the court during the trial how they had not seen her for a year-and-a-half to two years before the family reported her missing to police after she had been gone for six months.

They described her as "pleasant and helpful" but accepted she could change while drinking.

They also confirmed that at times Charlotte would disappear without telling anyone and on one occasion even went abroad on holiday without saying so, but that she had never disappeared for years.

Over the years there were possible sightings of her in Moy, Birmingham, London, Belfast, Monaghan and Edinburgh, but police said that all had drawn a blank.

The investigation was later escalated to a murder case and at the time her twin sister Denise said the family still clung to hope.

Police conducted an "assiduous, thorough, wide-ranging, comprehensive inquiry" that had established there was not a shred of evidence to suggest she was still alive.

This included tracing 41 other Charlotte Murrays throughout the UK to establish they were not "the Charlotte Murray in this case".

During the trial the prosecution, commenting on the supposed sightings, asked "Having created her new identity and having gone to all of this trouble, why go to her home village, where she was known" and where her cover could be blown at the very height of searches for her?

Charlotte's heartbroken family never gave up on their quest for justice.

In an appeal in 2017, marking the fifth anniversary of her disappearance, they spoke of how devastated they were over her disappearance.

Her twin Denise spoke of the family's anguish at not knowing her whereabouts.

"My sister Charlotte's disappearance is one of the most horrific experiences we have ever faced in our lives," she said.

"It's heartbreaking to know Charlotte is out there somewhere and we can't do anything to help her.

"Since our sister went missing in 2012 our emotions have been all over the place.

"Hope has been our friend in this nightmare and we cling onto it.

"Guilt is one emotion we all feel. We feel guilty for going on with our everyday lives as Charlotte will never get the opportunity to carry on with hers."

Denise spoke of the heartache of facing yet another Christmas without her sister.

"Charlotte has missed so many family events and celebrations that constantly reminds us that Charlotte is not here with us," she continued.

"We will be spending our sixth Christmas without her this year.

"Loss is an emotion we suffer as we wake up each day and go to sleep each night."

Denise said the family was "in mourning" but had "no special place to go to remember Charlotte".

"We also feel each other's pain," she said.

"Our poor mum is inconsolable and there is nothing we can say or do to help ease our pain.

"She gave Charlotte life and not knowing what has happened to her is heartbreaking for our mum.

"We suffer every day as we try to come to terms with the thought that we might never get to see Charlotte again.

"She was such a positive and outgoing person, the life and soul of the party and such great fun to be around."

Denise said the family needed to know where Charlotte was.

"We just want to say goodbye," she added.

Theirs has been the longest, most heartbreaking of ordeals.

Although one chapter has closed for the family, another remains painfully open.

Charlotte's body has never been found.

After yesterday's judgement her twin sister said that although they received justice in court, they were moving now to appeal for Miller to tell the family where the body is so they can "bring her home".

"Today is a day we, our family, and especially our mother, have waited patiently for," she said outside Dungannon Crown Court.

"We still don't have Charlotte back. We are now appealing to Mr Miller to do the decent thing, the honourable thing, and let us know where Charlotte is so we can bring her home.

"We would appeal to anyone who has information as to the whereabouts of Charlotte's remains to make contact with the police so she can be returned home.

"Let us grieve properly."

A court hearing will take place next month to set a minimum term for Miller.

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