Carers murdered missing woman after making her life ‘a living hell’

Avril Jones and Edward Cairney
Avril Jones and Edward Cairney

A man and a woman who made the life of the young woman they should have been caring for “a living hell” have been convicted of her murder.

Margaret Fleming, who had learning difficulties, vanished “from the face of the Earth” around December 1999. Her body has never been found.

Following a seven-week trial at the High Court in Glasgow, her supposed carers, Edward Cairney, 77, and Avril Jones, 59, were found guilty of murdering the missing woman.

Jones was also convicted unanimously of fraudulently claiming £182,000 in benefits by pretending Ms Fleming, who would now have been 38, was alive.Speaking after the conviction, Detective Superintendent Paul Livingstone, senior investigating officer in the case, said money was one of the motivations of the “evil and greedy” pair.

Margaret Fleming case
Detective Superintendent Paul Livingstone gives a statement to the media outside the High Court in Glasgow (Jane Barlow/PA)

He said: “The treatment which she was subjected to can only be described as horrific and the conditions in which she lived in were utterly disgusting and uninhabitable.

“For Cairney and Jones to continue the charade that she was still alive for all these years is abhorrent, with one of their reasons for doing so being for financial gain.

“We will never know just how Margaret was killed. What we do know is that she lived her last days in what can only be described as a living hell.

“She must have felt that she was alone in the world with no-one coming to help her, which is just heartbreaking to think of.”

Margaret Fleming missing
Margaret Fleming was killed between December 18 1999 and January 5 2000 (Police Scotland/PA)

Jurors found the couple murdered Margaret by unknown means between December 18 1999 and January 5 2000 at their home in Inverkip, Inverclyde, or elsewhere in Scotland, and then tried to cover up the crime for almost 18 years.

The jury took around three hours over two days to reach their majority verdict on the murder charge.

Lord Matthews told the pair: “You have been convicted of the murder of Margaret Fleming.

“The only sentence the court can impose is one of life imprisonment, however, as part of that I have to fix a period which must pass before you are eligible to apply for parole.”

He deferred sentence until July 17, pending reports.

Police launched an investigation after it became apparent in October 2016 that Ms Fleming was missing.

Routine social services inquiries were said to have sparked concerns over her whereabouts.

It was claimed the last independent sighting of her was actually at a family event on December 17 1999.

Margaret Fleming missing
Police remove contents from the cottage in Inverkip (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Her supposed carers were arrested in October 2017.

During their trial, which began in April this year, Ms Fleming was described by prosecutors as a “friendless and lonely” young woman who had significant difficulties.

She went to live at the Seacroft home of the accused following the death of her father when she was a teenager after those closest to her “didn’t want her”.

By October 1999, various benefits for Ms Fleming flowed into the household, which was said to have had financial difficulties.

The Crown suggested it was “tempting” for the couple to have the money but not the “inconvenience” of looking after her.

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 Crown claimed the couple “literally got away with murder for 16 years”.

Margaret Fleming case
Edward Cairney, 77, from Inverkip, arrives at the High Court in Glasgow ahead of his conviction (Jane Barlow/PA)

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” as they tried 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.

Breaking