Margaret Fleming, of Inverkip, Scotland, was reported missing last October (2016). And now, just over a year later, her two carers, Eddie Cairney and Avril Jones, have been charged with her murder. However, the last independent sighting of her was in 1999. So why did it take so long for her disappearance to be investigated?
It is believed that Margaret, who has learning difficulties, lived with her father until his death in 1995. She then lived with her grandmother and mother before moving in with the carers in 1997 after a falling out. The last confirmed sighting of her, by someone other than the carers, was at a family party in December 1999, when she was 18.
So how is it that a teenager with learning difficulties, who had been essentially abandoned by her remaining family, was left in the sole care of two unrelated guardians without a single check-up in 17 years?
The police were alerted and became involved in the case after being contacted by a benefits agency in October 2016. Margaret’s benefit allowance was being changed from “Disability Living Allowance,” which it had been since 1999, to “Personal Independence Payment,” a mandatory change that required her to personally attend an assessment.
It was only after this that her disappearance began to be investigated. It emerged, following more than 500 interviews, that no-one in the village or surrounding area where they lived had ever seen Margaret. Within a month the police had deployed search specialists, diving units and dog teams to no avail. Chief Inspector Elliot Brown claimed that the search was one of the most difficult of his career due to her “secluded lifestyle.”
This was followed by a search of the carers’ home and garden (which was completed dug up), but no trace of Margaret was found. Eventually, in August of this year, a demolition order was served on the house as it was declared “unfit for human habitation.”
In an interview with the BBC last month (October), the carers, now 76 and 57, spoke publicly for the first time since the case hit the headlines. Mr. Cairney claimed that when the police first came to the house that Margaret had ran away because she was scared of authority and had a “persecution complex.” He believes that the police could have found her that day, but that they refused to search the town, although there were policemen positioned at the front and back of the house on the day in question.
In a series of confusing and rambling statements Mr. Cairney went on to claim that he had seen and spoken to Margaret since her disappearance, that she had been working as a “gangmaster” in Poland, London and possibly other places, and that no harm had come to her. He stated that despite her learning difficulties and the fact that she has not been seen by anyone in 17 years, she was helping to recruit cheap, agricultural labour in the south of England. She is not missing, he claims, but is simply “avoiding” them (the carers) and the police.
The carers were arrested last month (October) and have now been formally charged with abduction, assault, fraud, and murder. The prosecution alleges that Margaret was held against her will by the couple between November 1, 1997, and her death shortly after the family party in December 1999. The couple then concealed the evidence of her death and pretended that she was alive in order to continue claiming state benefits, disability payments and carers allowance. In doing this over the past 17 years, the Greenock Telegraph claims that the couple has managed to defraud the authorities out of approximately £182,000 ($240,000).
The pair are due to appear next at The High Court of the Justiciary, Glasgow, before the trial, expected to begin next year, gets underway.
[Featured Image by Tony Webster/Flickr]