Margaret Fleming detective on how killers’ chilling comment led to conviction

Margaret Fleming vanished from her home more than 20 years ago – neither she nor her body have ever been found.

Last year the two people who should have protected the vulnerable 19-year-old were convicted of her murder.

Edward Cairney, 77, and Avril Jones, 59, were convicted of murdering Margaret following her disapperance from Glasgow in December, 1999.

They didn't report Margaret missing until 2016 and have refused to tell police where her body is.

Horrifyingly, Cairney and Jones continued to claim Margaret's benefits during the years between her disappearance and when they finally reported her missing.

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In total, they claimed a massive £182,000 in benefits by keeping up the pretence that Margaret was still alive.

Now, a BBC documentary, Murder Trial: The Disappearance of Margaret Fleming, will examine the chilling events that led to her disappearance and Cairney and Jones' convinction almost two decades later.

It was 16 years before police launched an investigation into what had happened to Margaret when it became apparent that she had vanished.

Social services had made inquiries into her well-being and were concerned she had gone missing.

A probe revealed the last time an independant witness had seen Margaret alive was in December, 1999 and it soon became apparent that something "sinister" had happened to the vulnerable young women.

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Her home was searched and the grounds surrounding the cottage were excavated.

Finally, in October, 2017, 18 years after Margaret had last been seen alive, her carers were arrested.

During Cairney and Jones' trial, the court heard Margaret was a "friendless and lonely" young woman who had significant difficulties.

Following the death of her father, and because those closest to her "didn't want her", Margaret went to life at Cairney and Jones' home.

The murder trial was told it was "tempting" for the couple to have the money but not the "inconvenience" of looking after her.

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How, and exactly when, Ms Fleming died, may never be fully known. It remains, as the defence highlighted, a case without a body and without a crime scene.

Holding them jointly responsibility for the death, the prosecution claimed the couple "literally got away with murder for 16 years".

Money was the motive behind the "terrible" crime, the court heard, with the pair cooking up an "elaborate scheme" to conceal her disappearance.

They were ultimately brought down by "greed, arrogance and lies" after Jones made claims of Ms Fleming having "fantastical" illnesses and conditions in correspondence with benefits officials.

As police zoned in on the couple, their fabricated stories to explain Ms Fleming's absence became increasingly "farcical".

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They to reconcile claims she was both working as a gangmaster and capable of travelling overseas, and that she was someone with major difficulties requiring a number of benefits.

But one of the police officers at the heart of the case, Sgt Chris McKay, revealed how he became convinced Cairney and Jones were responsible for Margaret's death.

Sgt McKay was the police officer on duty when the call came from social services, who were concerned about Margaret's whereabouts.

He decided to pay a visit to the home she was supposedly sharing with Cairney and Jones.

But when Sgt McKay arrived he was told by Cairney that Margaret had just left by the back door.

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Sgt McKay said: "I still remember standing here on thay night in question. Avrital sitting here, Eddie sitting there.

"He wouldn't allow Avril to speak, you could tell she was extremely nervous. That's when we were thinking, 'wait a minute, something's not right here'."

But it was Cairney's comments about why Margaret wouldn't return to the home while police were investigating that really convinced Sgt McKay they were behind something terrible happening to the teenager.

He said: "The one thing he said that stuck with me was that if we went away Margaret Fleming would come back because authority figures had drilled it into her that she would be taken into care.

"From the outset, it was very strange."

Cairney and Jones were jailed for a minimum of 14 years for Margaret's murder.

  • Murder Trial: The Disappearance of Margaret Fleming is on BBC2 at 9pm tonight.

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