Independent inquiry into murder of Margaret Fleming to begin

Professor Jean Maclellan OBE, director of Autism Network Scotland, will lead the Significant Care Review.

An independent inquiry into the murder of Margaret Fleming and how her carers managed to cover up her death for almost two decades will begin next month.

Professor Jean Maclellan OBE, director of Autism Network Scotland, will lead the Significant Care Review (SCR), which is expected to take around six months to complete.

The inquiry will include all the agencies that were involved with Ms Fleming and a detailed examination of the events leading up to her tragic death.

In June last year, Edward Cairney and Avril Jones were found guilty of killing Ms Fleming at their house in Seacroft, Inverkip, at some point between December 18, 1999, and January 5, 2000.

The pair were handed life sentences and ordered to serve at least 14 years before becoming eligible for parole.

Ms Fleming, who would have been 38 and had learning difficulties, has not been seen for 20 years and lived in “disgusting and uninhabitable” conditions when she stayed with her killers.

The pair were found guilty of tying her up, cutting her hair short and depriving her of food before eventually murdering her.

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.

Ms Fleming’s body has never been found.

At their sentencing, 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.”

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.

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

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.

The SCR team will now work to uncover any lessons that are to be learned over Cairney and Jones’ cover up to “hide their appalling treatment of Margaret”.

A spokesperson for the Inverclyde Health & Social Care Partnership said: “We have always been very clear that there will be a full independent inquiry into the circumstances surrounding Margaret Fleming’s tragic death.

“However, the legal process had to run its course first.

“We were advised by the Procurator Fiscal that the inquiry couldn’t start until the trial of Edward Cairney and Avril Jones, and any subsequent appeals, were complete.

“We have now appointed Professor Jean Maclellan OBE to head up the Significant Case Review.

“The inquiry’s first planning meeting is scheduled for February.

“This will be a full, independent inquiry which will involve all the agencies which were involved with Margaret during her life.

“The final report will be published when it is complete. We expect that this will take some six months.

“A key area for the SCR team will be to uncover any lessons that are to be learned from the extensive cover up carried out by Edward Cairney and Avril Jones to hide their appalling treatment of Margaret, while she was in their care, and the murder that they subsequently committed.”

Professor Jean MacLellan

Professor Jean MacLellan, the director of Autism Network Scotland, will lead up the SCR.

She is a social worker by background who has worked in a variety of roles in local authorities, health and the voluntary sector.

For much of her career she worked as a social work inspector and senior civil servant in the Scottish Government.

In that capacity she led policy on adult protection, autism, carers, learning disability, sensory impairment and self-directed support.

She has written extensively in terms of policy development, implementation and evaluation.

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