Elderly couple deny killing their disabled granddaughter

David and Sarah Johnston. Pic ALan Lewis Photopress INNT 24-608con
David and Sarah Johnston. Pic ALan Lewis Photopress INNT 24-608con
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An ELDERLY Glengormley couple have denied the unlawful killing of their severely disabled teenage granddaughter over a decade ago, a court heard last week.

David and Sarah Johnston, were formally arraigned on Thursday, June 16 before Mr Justice Hart at Belfast Crown Court, where their trial is to take place.

Mr Johnston (87) and his wife Sarah (84), from Carwood Drive, are each charged with manslaughter and cruelty towards their granddaughter, Rebecca McKeown.

The 14-year-old teenager, who was born blind and unable to speak, died in hospital on March 24, 2001, five days after she had been looked after by her grandparents for a few hours.

No details surrounding her death or of the prosecution case against the pensioners were given in court. However, Mr Justice Hart commented that the case “would centre very much around the medical evidence”.

The couple, who have been released on continuing bail, not only deny the manslaughter of their granddaughter, but also that they “wilfully ill-treated, neglected or exposed Rebecca McKeown to cause her unnecessary suffering or injury to health”.

Although a trial date has been fixed for the end of November, Mr Justice Hart said that since the estimated time of the case was up to five weeks, it may not be heard this year.

The judge was told that witness availability for the trial had already been established from November up to April of next year, and could therefore proceed anytime during that period.

Mr Justice Hart, who has put the case in for review for the first day of term following the summer recess, said the availability of expert witnesses, particularly medical witnesses, should also be established by then.