The judge tasked with overseeing the trial of three people accused of murdering schoolgirl Caroline Glachan has expressed “concerns” about proceedings having to take place late next year.
Lord Braid fixed a two week long diet to take place in November 2023 following a procedural hearing on Friday at the High Court in Edinburgh.
Prosecutors claim that Robert O’Brien, 44, Andrew Kelly, 43, and Donna Marie Brand, 43, murdered 14-year-old Caroline on August 25 1996 close to her home in Renton, Dunbartonshire. The trio deny the allegation.
The judge set the November 2023 dates after being told that the trial couldn’t take place in September next year.
Lord Braid was told that there were a lack of senior KCs available during that time. He heard that a trial involving 11 accused was due to take place in September next year.
Lord Braid also heard that the first accused – Mr O’Brien – had been on remand since November last year and would have spent two years in custody at the time of the start of his trial.
On Friday, Lord Braid asked Mr Duguid and Mr Kelly’s lawyer, Ronnie Renucci KC about the case.
Speaking about the prospect of a trial in November 2023, Lord Braid said: “I am uncomfortable about fixing a trial which I think is 13 months away when someone is in custody.
“One of the reasons that there were so many KCs admitted this year was to alleviate this very problem – was it not?”
Mr Renucci, the Vice Dean of the Faculty of Advocates, replied: “But there were only four appointed to the defence bench.
“Unfortunately all of those who were instructed have already got busy diaries.
“In my respectful submission it is unlikely that the appointment of the new KCs is going to make any material difference.”
Prosecutors claim that on various occasions between June 1 1996 and August 25 1996, Mr O’Brien, who is originally from Dumbarton, assaulted Caroline at locations in Dunbartonshire. These include Balloch Country Park and Renton, Vale of Leven and “elsewhere in Dunbartonshire.”
It is alleged that on those dates, Mr O’Brien assaulted Caroline by punching, slapping her face and by placing his hands around her neck and compressing her throat.
Prosecutors claim that he pushed Caroline, a pupil of Our Lady and St Patrick’s High School in Dumbarton, against a wall before forcing her arm up her back. It is alleged that he then threatened her with violence.
Prosecutors claim that on August 25 1996, at the towpath beside the River Leven between Renton and Bonhill, the three accused “whilst acting together” arranged to meet Caroline at a nearby bridge.
It’s alleged that the three accused assaulted Caroline, shouted and swore at her and repeatedly punched and kicked her on the head and body.
Prosecutors claim that the trio threw bricks or “similar instruments” causing blunt force injuries to be inflicted to her head and body.
It’s claimed that they caused her to fall into undergrowth and rendered her unconscious before pushing her into into the river. Prosecutors claim the three accused murdered Caroline.
On Friday, lawyers for the three accused entered not guilty pleas to the charges. Special defences of alibi were lodged for the first and third accused. Both Mr Kelly and Ms Brand live in the Dumbarton area.
During proceedings on Friday, Lord Braid said he had “concerns” about fixing proceedings for later next year.
He asked Mr Duguid: “Mr Duguid, how long has your client been in custody for?”
Mr Duguid replied: “I was going to say that I understand your lordship’s concerns.
“He’s actually been in custody from November 25 so a trial on November 24 would be two years following his remand.
“It is probably an extraordinary duration to await trial.
“But the matter is a difficult one. I was thinking Mr Renucci had explained it in its entirety.
“For the first accused it’s a position he doesn’t wish to be in – sitting in custody for two years awaiting a trial.
“But equally there would be a decision as to whether I can continue to represent him.
“He may wish me to continue to represent him and a compromise is going to have to be accommodated somewhere along the line. I recognise that.”
Lord Braid arranged for another procedural case to take place for next year.
He added: “The court is in a very difficult position given what I have been told is the shortage of senior counsel for the dates in September.
“It’s a question of balance – whilst it is exceptional that someone is remanded for 24 months. On any view he’d be remanded for 22 if the trial is in September
“And standing the fact that the accused are facing the most serious charge which is a charge of murder, I think the interests of justice point to the date in November.
“I will fix a trial for November 24 for 15 days but that will be in Glasgow High Court.”
The case will next call at the High Court in Edinburgh on March 13, 2023.