Ex-fireman ‘smelled burning flesh’ from fire at home of pair accused of murder

Margaret Fleming.
Margaret Fleming.
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A former fireman has claimed he smelled burning human flesh coming from a bonfire at the home of two people accused of murdering a missing woman.

Paul Neeson told the High Court in Glasgow yesterday that the blaze which lasted for days took place in 2008.

Edward Cairney. Picture: John Devlin

Edward Cairney. Picture: John Devlin

Edward Cairney, 77, and Avril Jones, 58, deny murdering Margaret Fleming. They are accused of killing her at Seacroft, Inverkip, Inverclyde, between 18 December, 1999 and 5 January, 2000.

Mr Neeson, 77, from Gourock, Inverclyde, told the jury as they drove past the house he turned to his wife and said: “I wonder who’s cremating who.”

He said that to placate his wife he then said to her: “It is probably a deer.”

Prosecutor Iain McSporran QC asked Mr Neeson, who was a fireman in Toronto,Canada for 14 years, before moving to Scotland 30 years ago: “You have smelled burning human tissue?”

He replied: “Yes it’s distinctive and it is indelibly on my mind it is not something you forget easily.”

Mr Neeson said there was an enormous fire in the garden at the rear of Seacroft.

Mr Neeson was asked by Mr McSporran: “Did you attend fatal fires as a fireman,” and he said: “Yes I did.”

The prosecutor then said: “Has the smell ever left you,” and the witness replied: “No it hasn’t.”

Mr Neeson said that during his time in the fire department in Toronto, Canada, he dealt with 11 fatal fires.

He added: “I don’t believe it was an animal because of my experience with burning human tissue.”

Earlier the court heard how almost 300 fragments of bone were discovered in the garden.

Analysis by Dr Helen Langstaff concluded that none of the fragments were recognisably human in origin.

Some of the fragments were recognisable as animal, including deer, while most of the 298 fragments were too small to identify as anything other than bone.

The trial, before judge Lord Matthews, continues.