Mum of murder accused ‘didn’t believe’ story of victim’s whereabouts

Margaret Fleming. Picture: Police Scotland
Margaret Fleming. Picture: Police Scotland
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The mother of a carer who is one of two people accused of murdering a woman more than 18 years ago has told a court she did not believe their explanation about the alleged victim’s whereabouts.

Margaret Fleming, described as having learning difficulties, was reported missing in October 2016 from her home in Inverkip, Inverclyde, but it is alleged she was killed between 1999 and 2000.

Edward Cairney, 76, and Avril Jones, 58, are accused of her abduction and murder, as well as fraudulently claiming £182,000 in benefits by pretending she was still alive.

The pair were her carers and are on trial at the High Court in Glasgow, where they deny all the charges against them.

Jones’s mother Florence - who said she last saw the then-teenager in March 1999 - said her daughter told her in January 2000 that Ms Fleming had left to live with someone from the Travelling community.

Giving evidence to the trial on Thursday the 78-year-old, from Inverkip, said the two accused visited her the morning after police searched their cottage.

The court heard officers had also called at her home - about half-a-mile away from Seacroft cottage - on the night of the visit in October 2016 and told her Ms Fleming had been reported missing.

Ms Jones said: “They said she had left that night, my answer was she hadn’t lived there for years.

“I was really upset to think that after all these years, she had just been reported missing then.

“Avril and Eddie came to my house the next morning, it was because the police were there the night before.

“Eddie was saying ‘this is all my fault, Florence’.

“Then he said that she had been there for three weeks. He said he had allowed Margaret to come and stay with them on-and-off if she wanted to.

“They knew by my reaction that I didn’t believe that Margaret was there.”

Ms Jones told the court her daughter had the power to take money out of Ms Fleming’s account and had been told the alleged victim would turn up to collect it.

The court also heard the witness understood Ms Fleming would self-harm and Cairney would put cardboard tubes over her arms to stop her, an apparent “automatic” act initiated by her.

Meanwhile, another witness earlier told the court she did not think Cairney and Jones were “fit enough” to be Ms Fleming’s carers.

Jean McSherry had been engaged to marry the father of Ms Fleming before he died from cancer in October 1995.

She said she tried to keep in contact with Ms Fleming but was unable to do so as Derek Fleming’s will put her in the care of Cairney and Jones.

Advocate depute Iain McSporran QC asked Ms McSherry what she thought about the two accused becoming carers for Ms Fleming.

The 66-year-old, from Shettleston, said: “I wasn’t happy about it.

“I didn’t think they were fit enough, I didn’t think they were the right sort of people to look after Margaret.”

Cairney and Jones, described as friends of Mr Fleming, are accused of murdering Ms Fleming, who would now be 37, by unknown means at some point between December 18, 1999 and January 5, 2000 - a charge they deny.

They also deny charges of attempting to defeat the ends of justice.

The trial, before judge Lord Matthews, continues.