A 16-year-old boy has been found guilty of the abduction, rape and murder of Alesha MacPhail on the Isle of Bute last July.
A jury at Glasgow high court reached their unanimous verdict after four hours of deliberation on Thursday afternoon following a two-week trial.
The jury heard that the 16-year-old, who cannot be named because of his age, took Alesha from her bed in the seafront flat where she was staying with her father and grandparents, using a knife to silence her, and carried the child to the grounds of a disused hotel where he raped and smothered her.
The six-year-old, from Airdrie in Lanarkshire, had arrived on the island a few days earlier for a three-week summer break. She was last seen by her family at about 11pm on 1 July. Her grandmother, Angela King, reported her missing at 6.23am the next day and appealed for help on Facebook, prompting a frantic search by locals. A member of the public found Alesha’s body about half a mile away at about 9am.
The jury was told of overwhelming forensic evidence linking the killer to the murder, with a match for his DNA detected on 14 separate parts of Alesha’s body, as well as a match for his semen indicating that he raped the child. Fibres believed to be from the accused’s trousers were also found on Alesha’s clothing.
The pathologist who examined Alesha’s body told the court the girl had sustained “catastrophic” injuries to her genitals, some of which he concluded had been inflicted while she was still alive.
The jury was shown CCTV of a figure on the shoreline who a number of witnesses said appeared to be carrying a heavy object. The timing matched other footage, which showed the killer leaving his family home on three occasions during that night.
This footage was drawn to the attention of police by the killer’s mother. The family lived within walking distance of the McPhail family flat, and the mother told the court that she initially reviewed the cameras to see if they had captured footage of the missing girl. Instead, she saw evidence of her son leaving the property and called the police “to eliminate him from their inquires”.
Throughout the trial, the killer blamed the murder on Toni McLachlan, the girlfriend of Alesha’s father, Robert. He maintained that the pair had had sex the night that Alesha went missing and that McLachlan had taken the used condom to plant evidence on the body, a story that McLachlan vehemently denied.
The jury rejected this defence – described as “preposterous” by the prosecutor, Iain McSporran QC – choosing instead to conclude that the CCTV showed him leaving the house to abduct Alesha himself using a kitchen knife taken from his mother’s Jamie Oliver knife block, than carrying her to nearby woods, where he raped and murdered her.
The home CCTV footage then showed him returning and leaving to dispose of the knife and bloodstained clothes on the shoreline, which were later found by dog walkers.
Reflecting on the verdict, the Rev Owain Jones, of the United Church of Bute, said: “In different ways, we have all, as individuals and as an island, had to live with these things, and there’s no question but that we will all be taken back now, by the trial, to events with which we haven’t begun to come to terms.”
He added: “There is an air of unreality to something that’s terribly real, and nothing feels the same after it. But this is a very resilient little island community, and we will cope.”