Glasgow & West Scotland

Margaret Fleming trial: Missing woman was 'naive and vulnerable'

Margaret Fleming
Image caption Margaret Fleming would now be 38

A former social worker has told a murder trial that missing Margaret Fleming was "naive and vulnerable".

Denise Munro, 59, said she was appointed as Margaret's social worker from 1995 to 1996 while she worked for Inverclyde Council.

She was giving evidence at the trial of Edward Cairney, 77, and Avril Jones, 59, at the High Court in Glasgow.

They deny murdering Margaret in Inverkip, between 18 December 1999 and 5 January 2000.

Margaret, who would now be 38, has allegedly not been seen for more than 19 years.

Mrs Munro said that she was appointed to help Margaret following the death of her father, who had cared for her.

'Lonely and sad'

She said Margaret's mother, Margaret Cruickshanks, had taken on caring duties but then complained to social work about her daughter's outbursts.

She told prosecutor Iain McSporran QC: "She was quite a naive girl, quite vulnerable, quiet, lonely, sad and did not have many friends."

The witness added: "When I went to their house to pick up Margaret I would have a conversation with her mum, who found it difficult.

"She had lived on her own and had an adolescent girl who was missing her dad."

Mrs Munro said that initially she met with Margaret once a week, but this then became once a fortnight.

She added: "It came to an end in July 1996 when I went off on maternity leave. As far as I was aware the case was closed. She seemed settled."

Medical check

The trial has heard that Margaret moved out of her mother's house and went to live with the accused, Mr Cairney and Ms Jones.

Mr McSporran asked former social worker Mrs Munro: "Were you aware that Margaret was staying with others?" and she replied: "No."

The trial also heard from 57-year-old Morag Deegan, a member of the visiting team from the Department of Work and Pensions.

She said that she visited Mr Cairney and Ms Jones' home on 18 June 2012 after Margaret failed to turn up for a medical check for her incapacity benefit.

Mrs Deegan said that she spoke to Ms Jones, who was the person appointed by the DWP to look after Margaret's benefits.

She told the jury: "Ms Jones said, 'She's here, but she won't see you'. She told me it was because of her condition or mental health."

'Not clean'

Mrs Deegan added: "I reported this as a social work referral as I was concerned about Miss Fleming and Ms Jones' living conditions and state of mind, and also the fact Miss Fleming was not registered with a GP. Ms Jones told me it would not be a good idea getting a local GP.

"The living conditions were very, very poor. The house was really run down and not clean."

Mr McSporran asked Mrs Deegan: "What did you then expect to happen?" and she replied: "A duty social worker should have visited them to follow up on welfare."

Helen Morley, 54, team leader of social work at Inverclyde Council then told the court: "We didn't get the client's consent and we basically closed it down as a referral ."

A note written at the time and shown to the jury stated: "Referrer did not ascertain client's permission to make a referral therefore no further action can be taken in relation to this."

Social work intervention

Defence QC Thomas Ross, representing Cairney, said: "How could the social work obtain permission without going to the house to assess this?"

Miss Morley said: "Yes, perhaps we should have tried to contact Avril Jones or Margaret Fleming. We have to weigh up the client's rights to have social work intervention."

Mr Ross asked: "Who is the client?" and was told it was Margaret Fleming.

The QC then asked: "You wouldn't be able to tell if Margaret Fleming wished to be involved unless you made contact and that in this occasion did not happen, did it?" and Miss Morley replied: "No."

Cairney and Jones are also accused of defrauding £182,000 in benefits and attempting to defeat the ends of justice by claiming Margaret was alive.

They deny all the charges against them.

The trial before judge Lord Matthews continues.