Cleared grandparents 'lived in turmoil'

Published Monday, 28 May 2012
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The grandparents of Rebecca McKeown, who have been acquitted of killing her, have "lived in turmoil these past 11 years", their lawyer said.

Cleared grandparents 'lived in turmoil'
Grandparents David and Sarah Johnston leave Belfast Laganside court (© Pacemaker)

David and Sarah Johnston left court on Monday completely exonerated of all charges relating to the death of their profoundly disabled granddaughter.

The trial ended in dramatic circumstances when judge Mr Justice McLaughlin directed the Crown Court jury to acquit the elderly couple - moments afterwards their daughter Cheryl McKeown, Rebecca's mother, collapsed outside the courtroom.

Rebecca, who was 14, died in March 2001 - five days after sustaining an injury thought to have been the result of a sexual assault, which the Crown claimed had happened while she was in the care of her grandparents.

But prosecuting QC Toby Hedworth said, having "anxiously" reviewed the state of the evidence and testimony which was yet to come, a decision had been made to offer no further evidence against Mr and Mrs Johnston.

Issuing a statement on their behalf, the Johnston's solicitor said they have suffered vilification and have even been intimidated out of their home.

"The lives of Mr and Mrs Johnston have been in turmoil for the last 11 years," Seamus Lenoard told the press.

Mr and Mrs Johnston have been vilified but throughout it all they have retained their immense dignity.

Seamus Lenoard

"Mr and Mrs Johnston are elderly grandparents who were intimidated from the home they had live in for 40 years - some taxi firms even refused to take them to court."

Mr Hedworth explained it was the evidence of Dr Mary Donnelly and of State Pathologist Professor Jack Crane that had led the Crown to their decision.

Eleven years after Rebecca's death, the doctor had admitted during the trial that her examination of the young girl may have unintentionally caused the internal injury.

Professor Crane had, during his testimony, said he could not be sure that the laceration had led to the Pneumonia that tragically killed the teenager.

After Mr Justice McLaughlin directed the jury of seven men and five women to find both Mr and Mrs Johnston not guilty and told them they were free to go, Mr Johnston told the judge: "Thank you very much."

In a statement the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) said the collapse of the trial "could not have been foreseen".

The decision to discontinue the prosecution has been taken as a result of the evidence given by a witness and medical experts at trial.


"On the morning that the witness was due to give evidence at Belfast Crown Court she provided an additional account of her examination of Rebecca which took place on 19 March 2001. This account had not previously been given by the witness to either the police or prosecution over the preceding 11 years," the PPS said.

The PPS statement claimed the medical opinion and new evidence "created a level of doubt in respect of the prosecution case which could not be excluded by the other medical experts due to be called on behalf of the prosecution".

The service added that the case had been properly brought.

However Mr Leonard criticised the police and PPS.

He said: "Mr and Mrs Johnston have been acquitted after the collapse of the prosecution case against them and their hitherto impeccable characters have been vindicated here today.

"The evidence has shown they were caring and loving grandparents who looked after Rebecca on hundreds of occasions and had been trained to look after her very special needs.

"We strongly hold the view that the police did not properly investigate all the circumstances surrounding the injury to the death of Rebecca but rather focussed inappropriately on Mr and Mrs Johnston.

"We firmly believe that no crime at all was ever committed and a miscarriage of justice has been prevented her today by this verdict."

In conclusion, Mr Leonard said the couple now wished "their right to privacy respected for the years they have to live together."

He added: "They wish to thank lawyers and many member of the public, not known to them, but who have over the recent weeks have sent letters and cards of support".

© UTV News
Comments Comments
Anon in Antrim wrote (975 days ago):
Still no explanation as to how the injury to Rebecca occurred which led her mother to seek medical advice in the first place!
Anon in Larne wrote (976 days ago):
How sorri i feel for the whole family. No one can turn back the clock but it was their shared love for Rebecca that has got them all through this most awful 11yr nightmare.
mary in portadown wrote (976 days ago):
Marty.........i agree with you. Name and shame the scum taxis drivers who wrongly acused this poor couple and the scum whoput them out of their houses. I hope they can live the rest of their lives in peace and love.
lorna in limavady wrote (976 days ago):
What a strange case this has turned out to be. If the docter who examined the little girl had been truthful at the start this poor couple would never have had this ordeal. The people who drove them from their home must surely be feeling ashamed and nothing, no apology can take away the hurt they must have felt and having to leave their home.I hope they are allowed to live in peace now.
Séamus in Bun Abhann Dallas wrote (976 days ago):
This was ,once again trial by media...once a seed is planted...Buíochais le Dia justice won out and Ihope they can enjoy some peace now but I know this terrible farce and the death of their poor granddaughter will never leave their minds.I feel so sorry for them!
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