Jury asked: 'Have they proved she is dead?'

THE jury in the trial of two men accused of murdering a woman 12 years ago was told it must decide whether prosecutors have actually proved she is dead.

The charge against William Lauchlan, 33, and Charles O'Neill, 47, alleges that they engaged in criminal sexual activity with a boy for three years and that they killed Mrs McGarrigle "believing that she intended to report such activity to the authorities".

It is alleged that, after murdering the woman in Largs, Ayrshire, on 21 June, 1997, they tried to defeat the ends of justice by hiding her body on the town's beach and then dumping it at sea. Her body has never been found.

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The pair deny the charges and O'Neill has lodged a special defence of incrimination, saying that if a murder was committed, it was carried out by another person.

Yesterday, at the High Court in Glasgow, Lord Pentland began directing the jury before it retires to consider its verdict after the three-week trial.

He told the jurors: "A logical starting point is to decide whether or not the Crown has proved that Mrs McGarrigle is dead.

"If you have a reasonable doubt as to whether the Crown has proved that she is dead then beyond that is the end of the proceedings."

Turning to prosecutor Dorothy Bain QC's closing submission, he said: "The Crown case is that the two accused put what amounted to a joint plan into effect at some point during the night, and at all material times the two accused were acting together and carrying out a joint scheme to murder her and then to cover their tracks by getting rid of her body."

Lord Pentland will continue addressing the jury today.