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Carers jailed for murdering missing Margaret Fleming

Edward Cairney, 77, and Avril Jones, 59, will serve at least 14 years behind bars.

Margaret Fleming hasn't been seen for nearly two decades.
Margaret Fleming hasn't been seen for nearly two decades.

The murderers of missing Margaret Fleming have been jailed for at least 14 years.

Edward Cairney, 77, and Avril Jones, 59, killed the woman they were supposed to caring for at their house in Seacroft, Inverkip, between December 18, 1999, and January 5, 2000.

Ms Fleming, who would now be 38 and had learning difficulties, has not been seen for more than 19 years and lived in “disgusting and uninhabitable” conditions when she stayed with her killers.

The pair tied her up, cut her hair short and deprived her of food before eventually murdering her.

In June, a jury of eight women and seven men took more than three hours to find Cairney and Jones guilty of murdering Fleming at the High Court in Glasgow.

Jones was also convicted unanimously of fraudulently claiming £182,000 in benefits by pretending Ms Fleming was alive and the couple were both convicted of perverting the course of justice.

They were both handed life sentences on Wednesday, and told to serve at least 14 years before becoming eligible for parole.

Judge Lord Matthews told them: “You were convicted after trial of the murder of Margaret Fleming.

“Precisely how that was accomplished and any other circumstances was not disclosed in evidence and only you two know the truth. Only you two know where her remains are.

“That remains a source of immense grief as far as her mother is concerned. It seems obvious that the motive for the murder and cover up was financial.”

He added: “Margaret Fleming was a vulnerable young woman with evident difficulties. She was in your care and you breached the trust placed in you.

“The manner in which you spoke about her was cruel. The web of deceit that you span was callous and calculating.”

Police launched an investigation in October 2016 after it became apparent 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 at a family event on December 17 1999. Her supposed carers were arrested in October 2017.

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

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

By October 1999, the household – said to have financial troubles – was collecting her benefits. The Crown suggested it was “tempting” for the couple to have the money but not the “inconvenience” of looking after her.

Holding them jointly responsibility for the death, the Crown claimed Cairney and Jones “literally got away with murder for 16 years”.

The details of how, where and when Ms Fleming died may never be fully known since, as the defence highlighted, there is no body and no crime scene.

The court heard money was the motive behind the “terrible” crime with the pair devising an “elaborate scheme” to conceal her disappearance.

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.

After sentencing on Wednesday, police urged Cairney and Jones to tell them what happened to Ms Fleming’s body.

Detective Superintendent Paul Livingstone, the senior investigating officer in the case, said: “Cairney and Jones’ lies have been exposed and now they have to serve their time for the heinous crimes they’ve committed.

“Margaret was a very vulnerable young woman when she was abused, neglected, manipulated and murdered by these two greedy, evil individuals.

“Margaret’s family and friends will never know just what happened to her and they have been denied the right to pay their final respects to her at her funeral.

“I would say to Cairney and Jones – if you have a scrap of decency you will give the answers to the questions that Margaret’s family deserve.

“I am willing to meet either of them so that they can tell me in order to provide some kind of comfort to her family and allow them to put her to rest finally.”

Nicky Patrick, procurator fiscal for homicide and major crime, said Cairney and Jones were caught by their own greed.

She said: “Edward Cairney and Avril Jones have been convicted and sentenced for the murder of Margaret Fleming, a vulnerable young woman they were supposed to care for.

“Instead they killed her, covered up their crime and continued on with their lives as if nothing had happened.

“They created an incredible web of lies about her circumstances and whereabouts and Avril Jones continued to claim Margaret’s state benefits. It was this greed that led to them being caught.

“After a long and complex investigation involving painstaking investigative work by police and prosecutors, working with other law enforcement authorities and experts, these two have been brought to justice and part of Margaret’s story has been heard.”

A social work inquiry will now take place into the events leading up to Ms Fleming’s killers being brought to justice.

A spokesperson for the Inverclyde Health and Social Care Partnership said: “The Procurator Fiscal asked us not to carry out an investigation before the trial concluded. 

“Inverclyde’s Multi-Agency Public Protection Committees will now work with all the organisations involved in Margaret’s case on a full, detailed examination of the events leading up to her tragic death. 

“The public protection committee is determined to ensure that the independent investigation will provide an in-depth understanding to the issues around the case.”

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