Glasgow & West Scotland

Margaret Fleming trial: Accused claimed missing woman was a gangmaster

Margaret Fleming
Image caption Margaret Fleming was reported missing in October 2016

Murder accused Edward Cairney told a journalist that missing Margaret Fleming was a gangmaster who regularly travelled in Europe, a court has heard.

Russell Findlay was giving evidence at the trial of Mr Cairney, 77, and Avril Jones, 59.

Both deny murdering Ms Fleming sometime between December 1999 and January 2000.

The jury heard extracts of an interview conducted by Mr Findlay, in which Mr Cairney claimed Ms Fleming was buying and selling drugs.

On the tape, Mr Cairney claimed Ms Fleming had a number of aliases and was "a frustrated spy".

He also alleged that there was a Masonic conspiracy against him by police and Inverclyde Council.

The High Court in Glasgow heard that the interview with Mr Cairney and Ms Jones was recorded at their home - Seacroft, on Main Road, Inverkip, Inverclyde - in October 2017.

Asked by prosecutor Iain McSporran QC, why he had obtained an interview with the couple, Mr Findlay said: "I had been aware of extensive media coverage about a missing woman.

"It was quite an intriguing and unusual case. Then in 2017, I heard rumours that she was alive and well."

The journalist said that he initially went to Seacroft in September 2017, where he spoke briefly to Ms Jones who told him "nothing untoward had happened".

'Buying and selling drugs'

Mr Findlay said that Mr Cairney and Ms Jones agreed to meet with him on 4 October 2017 and he recorded the interview.

On the tape, Mr Cairney - speaking of Ms Fleming - states: "In Wisbech in Cambridgeshire I introduced her to a gangmaster. She became what is known down there as a gangmaster."

Mr Cairney claimed that Ms Fleming travelled in Cambridgeshire, Hereford and Kent and and all over Europe. He added: "She found out she could bring guys from Poland over here and pay them washers."

He then wondered how she had managed to do all this without a passport.

At a later stage in the interview Mr Cairney stated: "She's not taking drugs, but buying and selling them."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The case is being heard at the High Court in Glasgow

The jury heard that Mr Cairney claimed Ms Fleming used a number of surnames including Lee, Crawford, Coe, Jones and Hamilton, as well as Fleming.

Mr Cairney said: "She had a number of different names. She is a frustrated spy."

He also said Ms Fleming was not missing, and added: "She's avoiding us. She's not missing. I know what she's up to. I'm horrified at what I've created."

Defence QC Thomas Ross, representing Mr Cairney, asked Mr Findlay: "Neither Eddie Cairney nor Avril Jones had been charged by the time you spoke to them."

He replied: "I think there were suspicions there was a body."

A major police investigation was sparked in October 2016 after a benefits claim submitted by Ms Jones on Ms Fleming's behalf raised concerns about her well-being.

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

After her father died in October 1995, her mother could not cope and Mr Cairney and Ms Jones became her carers.

The court heard that as part of the missing person's investigation Mr Cairney and Ms Jones had been put out of their house while police dug up their garden, but by the time of the interview they had returned.

Mr Ross asked the journalist: "Had you ever come across a situation where two citizens were put out of their house for months while police were conducting a search?"

Mr Findlay replied: "I don't remember any."

Defence QC Ian Duguid, representing Ms Jones, said: "What you are describing is an interview with Mr Cairney with a few contributions from Avril Jones," and Mr Findlay replied: "Yes."

'Wouldn't want to know her'

Later the jury was shown a BBC interview with Mr Cairney and Ms Jones.

Reporter Suzanne Allan spoke to them on camera for more than 40 minutes at their home on 7 October 2017, although only a couple of minutes were broadcast.

In the interview, Mr Cairney said he told the police where they could find Ms Fleming and they ignored them.

Ms Jones said: "I don't know why they haven't done more to find her. Her friends will be doing a whole lot to keep her safe and prevent her being found."

Both appeared to claim that Ms Fleming had stayed with them a few weeks prior to the interview, although this was not clarified.

Prosecutor Mr McSporran said to Ms Allan: "The camera is close in on Avril Jones and she is asked if she saw Margaret today what would she say to her. There is no response and Mr Cairney says if she was involved in this other business we wouldn't want to know her?"

Ms Allan replied: "Yes."

The prosecutor then said: "You asked if they wanted Margaret back and both said no?" Ms Allan replied: "Yes."

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

They deny all the charges against them.

The trial before judge Lord Matthews continues.

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