Zoe Nelson's aunt 'smelled smoke' night before teenager's charred body found

Zoe Nelson: Teenager's charred remains found in woods.
Zoe Nelson: Teenager's charred remains found in woods.

An aunt of student Zoe Nelson "smelled smoke" the night before the teenager's charred body was found, a murder trial has heard.

Care assistant Shirley Nelson, 35, told how she was sitting in her garden in Newmains, Lanarkshire, after going for "a wee pint" that evening following a back shift at work.

Miss Nelson told the High Court in Edinburgh that she sat at the back of her house with her sister until about 11pm.

She said: "We smelled smoke. We didn't think anything of it because it was warm and everything."

Miss Nelson said the next day she heard that other members of the family were trying to contact Zoe and so she tried to call her mobile phone as well - but none of the calls was answered.

The trial has heard that the badly burned body of Zoe, 17 - who was studying mechanics at Motherwell College - was discovered during the afternoon of May 23 last year near Branchalfield Drive, Cambusnethan, Wishaw in woodland known locally as Monkey Hill.

Robert Bayne, 21, who denies attacking her with a knife there, putting a plastic sheet over her head to restrict her breathing and then setting fire to her.

Other witnesses told the trial on Friday that they saw Zoe and Bayne together on Saturday May 22 last year - and they seemed to be arguing.

Tattooed face

Paul Denholm, 22, who knew Zoe from Motherwell College, said he saw Zoe walk past his garden in Newmains in the company of a man with a tattooed face.

Mr Denholm told police later: There was a guy ten metres in front of Zoe but it was obvious they were together because he was turning back and talking.

"They looked as if they were arguing. That was the impression I got."

Mr Denholm agreed with defence QC Neil Murray that although he thought the couple were arguing there was no shouting or gesturing.

Kelly McAdam, 25, said she saw Zoe and Bayne near the victim's home in Crindledyke Crescent, Newsmains, together with Zoe's sister, Laura Anne.

Asked to describe Bayne then she told the trial: "He just looked angry."

The witness said Bayne was walking away and Zoe was following him when he punched a lamp post. He denies an earlier attack on Zoe by punching her on the head and scratching her and, on another occasion, committing a breach of the peace by threatening her.

It is also claimed that after the murder Bayne tried to cover his tracks by setting fire to Zoe's body, washing his clothes, dumping her mobile phone and telling police that someone else was responsible.

A charge of attempting to defeat the ends of justice also alleges that Bayne told Zoe's sister Laura Anne where her body lay, but threatened to kill her if she reported what she had seen.

Bayne denies all the charges against him, including an alleged assault on a detective and repeatedly stealing alcohol from an Asda store in Morningside Road, Newmains, on the day Zoe is said to have died.

The trial, before judge Lady Dorrian, continues.

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