Northern Ireland

McKeown trial told sexual assault 'did not contribute' to death

David and Sarah Johnston
Image caption David Johnston, 88 and his wife Sarah, 86, deny killing their disabled granddaughter

Northern Ireland's state pathologist has conceded there was a "reasonable possibility" an alleged sexual assault injury sustained by a disabled teenager did not contribute to her death.

Professor Jack Crane has been giving evidence for a second day at the trial of 88-year-old David Johnston and 86-year-old Sarah Johnston.

The pair from Carwood Drive in Newtownabbey are charged with the manslaughter of their grand-daughter Rebecca McKeown. They deny the charge.

They also deny a further charge of child cruelty.

The prosecution claim an alleged sexual assault by one or both grandparents led to Rebecca's death from pneumonia.

Under cross-examination on Thursday, Professor Crane maintained it was his professional considered opinion that the injury he found on 14-year-old Rebecca did contribute to her death in March 2001.

But after an extended discussion on the topic where a defence lawyer asked the scientist repeatedly if there was a possibility the injury did not contribute to Rebecca's death, Professor Crane said: "I concede the point you are making - all I can do is give my opinion to the best of my ability."

He denied, however, the suggestion put to him that after a consultation with senior barristers and police "someone wanted you to tighten up their case" or that he "moved from a guarded proposition to a much more aggressive proposition".

He explained that he had made a further statement to "clarify" his first report from 2001.

The lawyer suggested: "It's very, very difficult to have a proper conclusion in a case like this."

Professor Crane agreed: "It was a very complex case, yes."

The trial will resume on Monday when the jury will hear evidence from the consultant neurological paediatrician who had 'lifelong' care of Rebecca.

More on this story