The murder of 14-year-old Caroline Glachan, whose body was found on the banks of the River Leven in West Dunbartonshire, has finally been solved after 27 years. Three people, Robert O’Brien, 45, Andrew Kelly and Donna Marie Brand, both 44, have been found guilty of killing the schoolgirl in a brutal attack on August 25, 1996.
A long-awaited verdict
The trio were convicted at the High Court in Glasgow on Tuesday, following a trial that lasted for four weeks. The jury heard how O’Brien, Kelly and Brand had assaulted Caroline near the Black Bridge in Renton, after she had left a friend’s house around midnight. They then dumped her body in the river, where it was discovered later that day.
The prosecution relied on DNA evidence, CCTV footage, witness statements and the confessions of the accused to the police and others. The defence argued that the confessions were unreliable and coerced, and that the DNA evidence was contaminated. However, the jury rejected their claims and returned a unanimous verdict of guilty.
The judge, Lord Matthews, deferred sentencing until January 11, 2023, and remanded the three in custody. He told them: “You have been convicted of a terrible crime which has haunted the community for a quarter of a century. You will have to live with that for the rest of your lives.”
A mother’s quest for justice
Caroline’s mother, Margaret McKeich, who had campaigned tirelessly for justice for her daughter, said she was “over the moon” with the verdict. She thanked the police, the prosecutors and the public for their support and assistance. She said: “I never gave up hope. I always knew they would be caught. I’m just glad I lived to see this day.”
She also paid tribute to her daughter, who was a pupil at Our Lady and St Patrick’s High School in Dumbarton. She said: “Caroline was a lovely girl. She was bubbly, friendly and outgoing. She had a lot of friends and a bright future ahead of her. She didn’t deserve what happened to her. She was taken from me on my 40th birthday. It was the worst day of my life.”
She added: “I hope they rot in jail for what they did. They have shown no remorse or regret. They are evil and cowardly. They have ruined their own lives and their families’ lives as well as mine. They have no place in society.”
A breakthrough in the case
The murder of Caroline Glachan was one of Scotland’s most high-profile unsolved cases. It featured on the BBC’s Crimewatch programme and was the subject of several appeals and reviews by the police. However, the case remained cold until 2020, when a new DNA technique called familial searching was used to identify a potential suspect.
Familial searching involves comparing DNA samples from a crime scene with those from a national database, to find relatives of the person who left the sample. In this case, the police found a match with a relative of O’Brien, who had been arrested for a minor offence. They then obtained a DNA sample from O’Brien himself, which matched the one found on Caroline’s clothing.
The police then arrested O’Brien, Kelly and Brand, who were all friends and lived in the same area as Caroline. They initially denied any involvement in the murder, but later confessed to various people, including undercover officers, prison inmates and family members. They also implicated each other in the attack, giving different versions of what happened that night.
The police also recovered CCTV footage from a nearby shop, which showed Caroline walking towards the bridge where she was attacked, and the three accused following her shortly afterwards. The footage also showed them returning to the shop after the murder, acting suspiciously and buying cigarettes and alcohol.
A landmark case for Scotland
The conviction of O’Brien, Kelly and Brand is the first in Scotland to be based on familial searching, which was introduced in 2016. The technique has been used successfully in other countries, such as the USA and England, to solve cold cases and identify serial killers. However, it also raises ethical and legal issues, such as privacy, consent and discrimination.
The Scottish Police Authority, which oversees the use of familial searching, said it was a “powerful tool” for solving crimes, but also a “complex and sensitive” one. It said it followed strict guidelines and criteria to ensure the technique was used proportionately and lawfully. It also said it worked closely with the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, the Scottish Human Rights Commission and other stakeholders to ensure the rights and interests of all parties were respected.
The Scottish Government, which approved the use of familial searching in 2016, said it was pleased with the outcome of the case. It said it supported the police and the prosecutors in their efforts to bring justice to the victims of crime and their families. It also said it recognised the challenges and implications of using new technologies in the criminal justice system, and that it would continue to monitor and review the situation.