Mother of missing vulnerable daughter ‘thought she was getting on with her life’

The mother of a woman allegedly murdered more than 18 years ago has told a court she thought her daughter was getting on with her life and “enjoying herself”.

Margaret Cruickshanks, who told a jury she last spoke to her daughter Margaret Fleming more than 20 years ago, said she did not think she was welcome in her daughter’s life.

The witness also claimed she was assaulted by one of the two people accused of murder when she went to try and bring her daughter home.

Ms Fleming was reported missing in October 2016 from her home in Inverkip, Inverclyde, but it is claimed she has not been seen since December 1999.

Edward Cairney, 76, and Avril Jones, 58, are accused of Ms Fleming’s abduction and murder, and of fraudulently claiming £182,000 in benefits by pretending she was still alive.

The pair are on trial at the High Court in Glasgow, where they deny all the charges against them.

Ms Cruickshanks, 71, told the court her daughter, who was born in 1980, had learning difficulties.

She sometimes had a temper and could be “difficult to handle” as a youngster, the court heard.

Jurors were told how Ms Fleming went to live with her father after he and her mother separated.

Following his death she stayed with her grandparents, before returning to live with her mother at the age of 15-and-a-half, the court was told.

Ms Cruickshanks said Jones and Cairney, described as friends of her ex-husband, would take Ms Fleming for a few nights to help her out.

By the age of 16, she was staying with them for good, the court was told.

Ms Cruickshanks described a time when she went to the home where they resided, known as Seacroft, to “bring my daughter home” but she said she was not allowed to do so.

She and Cairney “had words” and he assaulted her, she alleged.

The witness told the court: “He actually threw me up against a wardrobe.

“He put his hands round my throat, tried to choke me, and spat on my face and threw me down on the ground.”

She added that Jones was present, “watching everything that was going on”.

The witness said Cairney then asked Ms Fleming where she wanted to live.

“She looked terrified and said ‘there’ (Seacroft),” Ms Cruickshanks said.

The witness also told jurors the episode left her (Ms Cruickshanks) crying and nervous and that she reported it to police.

Officers later reported back that Ms Fleming said she was “quite happy” staying at the property, the court heard.

The Crown alleges the incident happened in 1997, while the witness said she believed it to be in 1996.

Ms Cruickshanks told the court she never saw, or had contact with, her daughter again after that visit, apart from a possible sighting of her with Cairney near a supermarket.

The sighting was said to be a couple of months afterwards, although the court later heard she told police Ms Fleming was aged in her 20s by that point.

By October 2016, the court heard that police were conducting an investigation into Ms Fleming being a missing person.

Advocate Depute Iain McSporran QC, prosecuting, asked the witness about her feelings towards her daughter over the years that had elapsed with no contact.

She said: “I actually thought she was getting on with her life and enjoying herself in every way possible. I never thought the likes of this would happen.”

She added: “I thought she was still with Eddie Cairney and Avril Jones.”

Asked whether she thought she was welcome in her daughter’s life, she replied: “No, I don’t think so.”

Thomas Ross QC, representing Cairney, suggested to the witness that she had been shouting and swearing and had spat on Cairney during the alleged assault.

Ms Cruickshanks denied doing so.

Mr Ross also told the court that 23 separate people contacted police to say they might have seen Ms Fleming after officers put up posters around the area as part of their inquiry into her disappearance in 2016.

During questioning by Ian Duguid QC, for Jones, the court heard Ms Cruickshanks went to social workers with a friend in October 1995 because of concerns over her teenage daughter’s behavioural difficulties.

Paperwork from the department at Inverclyde Council from that time noted Ms Fleming to be “a rather lonely, isolated girl” and said she “may feel rejected by her mother”.

Cairney and Jones are accused of murdering Ms Fleming, who would now be 37, by unknown means at some point between December 18 1999 and January 5 2000 – a charge they deny.

They also deny charges of attempting to defeat the ends of justice.

The trial, before judge Lord Matthews, continues.

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Police Scotland / PA Wire.