End of an 11-year nightmare

David and Sarah Johnston leave Belfast's Laganside courthouse on Monday after being acquitted. Pic by Colm Lenaghan, Pacemaker

David and Sarah Johnston leave Belfast's Laganside courthouse on Monday after being acquitted. Pic by Colm Lenaghan, Pacemaker

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FRIENDS and neighbours of the elderly Glengormley couple accused of killing their 14-year-old granddaughter have said they are pleased Monday’s court judgement clearing the pair of any wrongdoing spells the end of a nightmare for them.

David Johnston (88) and his 86-year-old wife Sarah of Carwood Drive were acquitted of all charges against them at a hearing in Belfast Crown Court on Monday.

Their severely disabled granddaughter Rebecca McKeown, who had the body mass of a six-year-old and required round-the-clock care, died in March 2001 of pneumonia, five days after sustaining a vaginal laceration.

David and Sarah Johnston, stood accused of manslaughter and child cruelty against the teenager, but always denied the charges against them, .

However, following the testimony of a locum GP about an examination she carried out days before the teen’s death, questions were raised about the treatment Rebecca had undergone, and this ultimately led to the trial’s collapse.

On Monday (May 28), the trial judge, Mr Justice McLaughlin, directed the jury to acquit the Johnstons of all charges after the prosecution decided to offer no more evidence against the couple.

For the past decade, the elderly grandparents have been abused, harassed and even forced from their Whiteabbey home of 40 years because of the allegations against them. And during the five-week trial some taxi firms refused to ferry the couple to court.

Friends of the couple told the Times: “The couple have been through a horrid time for the past 10 or 11 years, suffering all manner of abuse. The loss of a grandchild is devastating for any family, but the pain caused by these accusations must have been unimaginable.

“They have suffered a lot and they are lovely people. We are just glad they have been cleared; hopefully they will now get the peace they deserve. For them, I am sure, it is the end of a nightmare.”

Read more in this week’s Times...