After almost three decades of torture and anguish, the family of Caroline Glachan finally have justice.
The 14-year-old schoolgirl was murdered in August 1996 – her body dumped in the River Leven near Place of Bonhill in Renton.
Despite several high-profile appeals through the years – including by the teenager’s heartbroken mother Margaret McKeich – her murder remained unsolved.
Nevertheless, Ms McKeich remained determined to find the truth about what happened to her daughter. But over the years, numerous pleas for help were met with a deafening silence.
It took almost 27 year to unlock those secrets.
“This has been a great day, I just can’t sum up how I feel – and I’m sure her dad feels the same,” Ms McKeich told reporters outside the High Court in Glasgow following the conviction.
“It will not bring her back but at least we know that who is responsible is serving time for it, because for the past 25 years they have lived their life and they’ve had their Christmases and their birthdays, and my Caroline was in the ground.”
Judge Lord Braid told all three accused they had been found guilty of a “brutal, depraved and above all wicked murder”.
Those responsible for Caroline’s death include the boyfriend she met after leaving her best friend, Joanne Menzies, on that dark Saturday night on August 25, 1996.
Robert O’Brien, known as Robbie, along with two others – Andrew Kelly and Donna Marie Brand – brutally attacked the schoolgirl and left her to drown in the River Leven.
Speaking outside court on Thursday, Joanne told STV News she felt a sense of relief for Caroline’s mother following the verdict.
She said: “It’s a long time to wait to get the truth about her daughter, so relief that every one of them got found (guilty) because every one is as bad as each other.
“It should never happened, she was 14, and I think a lot of people forget that. We’ve always known (who killed Caroline), it’s just trying to prove it, with the amount of lies. It was lie upon lie upon lie and then you watch Margaret beg on TV – ‘please help me, I just want to know what happened to my daughter’.
“And still nobody got a conscience to say ‘this woman needs to know what happened to her daughter’. It’s a long time to watch somebody fighting to try and find out what happened to her daughter.
“Is it justice? Maybe something for Margaret to answer, I don’t know.”
A 999 call made shortly after Caroline’s body was discovered in the River Leven was a significant moment. Up until then, Ms McKeich had been expecting her to return home, full of excuses.
Caroline was said to be infatuated with O’Brien who was then 18. She had set off at midnight on August 25, 1996, to meet him near the towpath beside the river between Renton and Bonhill.
In an STV documentary broadcast 18 years ago, Ms McKeich mother spoke of her disapproval of this relationship.
She said: “He was older than she was, way too old. I did think to myself ‘what does a boy of that age want with a 14-year-old girl, plus he was into drugs and things that any mother wouldn’t want their daughter involved.”
The teenage killers claimed they spent the night at a house in Renton’s Allan Crescent where Kelly was babysitting with his girlfriend, Sarah Jane O’Neill, who died in 2019.
The evidence of the young boy Kelly was looking after and the upstairs neighbours proved to be crucial.
The boy’s mother described in court how her four-year old son told her that he had been taken to the River Leven by his babysitters late at night and that he saw “a fight with a wee lassie”.
The youngster said he and his brother had been with Kelly, O’Brien and Brand, and that the girl had been hit on the head and then fell into the water.
A number of witnesses admitted in court they had been reluctant to speak to police in 1996 – some because they were involved in drugs or fearful of reprisals.
Despite the brutality of the crime and the huge publicity it generated, officers also said they were disappointed at the poor response to their appeals for information.
Reverend Ian Miller told STV News: “I think everyone in the community remembers it, it’s burned in our history really and just absolute shock that this should happen – a 14-year-old girl, a wee lassie, her life ahead, taken from us.
“It was inexplicable so there was anger, there was shock, there was disbelief. That’s what we were coping with.”
“I think frankly we’re baffled (that it took 27 years to reach court). I mean, this is a close-knit community, we all know one another, probably know what each other’s had for their breakfast in the morning – it’s that kind of place.
“So the fact that nothing seemed to be coming out, nothing definitive, was staggering, and I think we were a bit ashamed. Somebody must know – are they not speaking, are they scared, are they being threatened? I don’t know.
“But that I think was one of the most significant things – disbelief. Was it people not speaking? Were the police not following up leads? We were baffled and ashamed really that nobody was coming out and saying: ‘I know’.”
“For Margaret, Caroline’s mother, it has just been devastating. She’s well-known, well-loved, in the community, used to work in the local shops, so everybody knew her, everybody saw her, and we grieve for her.
“Really, I hope there is some closure here, she deserves it. I actually think what we’re hearing leaves more questions than answers.”
All three will be sentenced on the January 15 – just days after what would have been Caroline’s 42nd birthday.
The trio had denied the charge and had lodged a special defence of alibi.
When they were led down to the cells, a relative of Brand shouted: “I will fight to my last breath to get you out.”
But detective Inspector Stuart Grainger, who led the investigation, said he hoped Thursday’s conviction would provide comfort to Caroline’s family.
He said: “At the heart of this is a mother, a father, extended family and friends who have had to endure years of not knowing who killed Caroline.
“Their lives changed forever the day Caroline was murdered, they were robbed of having a future with her, watching her grow from a young girl to a young woman. Her future was robbed the night she met Robbie, Donna and Andrew.
“For years this community has lived under a dark cloud, wondering if Caroline’s killers walked among them.
“Nothing will bring Caroline back or lessen the heartache her family and friends live with, but I hope that seeing those responsible paying for their crime offers them some level of comfort.”
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