Page last updated at 15:45 GMT, Friday, 26 March 2010

Judges reject Ayrshire pensioner killers' appeal

Margaret Irvine
Margaret Irvine was a widow who lived alone

Two men convicted of murdering an elderly woman during a botched robbery have had their appeal rejected.

Patrick Docherty, 46, and Brendan Dixon, 41, were sentenced to at least 25 years for killing Margaret Irvine in Galston, Ayrshire, in 2003.

Lawyers for the pair had claimed they did not receive a fair trail.

But appeal judges said they were not persuaded that evidence not included at their trial would have resulted in a different outcome.

The original trial heard that Docherty and Dixon broke into the 91-year-old's home on Barward Road, beat her, tied her up and stuffed a duster into her mouth as a gag.

She was found lying dead on her bed by her home-help.

A jury at the High Court in Kilmarnock in February 2005 rejected claims by Docherty and Dixon that they had alibis.

Jailing the two men for life, judge Lord Hardie told them their crime "defied description".

We are not persuaded that there was any real possibility of a different outcome
Appeal judges ruling

Ever since the men have claimed police botched their murder investigation by hastily eliminating a tattooed man from their inquiries.

The man, Peter Fraser, was one of two men seen in Mrs Irvine's garden on the day of the murder.

He had a history of violence and drug abuse and was a friend of another man, Colin Miller, who also stood trial for Mrs Irvine's murder but was cleared by a jury's not proven verdict.

Restaurant worker Sheena Orr, who had been passing the house, was not called as a witness at Docherty and Dixon's trial.

Lawyers for Docherty and Dixon said police had not handed over statements from Mrs Orr which could have been helpful to the defence.

But Lady Paton, sitting with Lords Carloway and Mackay of Drumadoon, rejected the argument.

They ruled that defence lawyers could still have taken up the question of the sightings in the garden, without knowing about Mr Fraser.

"We are not persuaded that there was any real possibility of a different outcome had Mrs Orr's police statements been disclosed, thus giving the defence the name Peter Fraser," the appeal judges said.

Circumstantial case

They also pointed out that when interviewed last year, in connection with the appeal, Mrs Orr said she was wrong about the timing of the sighting in September 2003.

They went on to say that in the aftermath of the murder, when questioned by police, Docherty appeared to know things about the murder which only someone who was there would know.

Lawyers for Docherty and Dixon also claimed that the prosecution's circumstantial case - in which there was no DNA link and no confessions - should not have led to guilty verdicts.

They also criticised remarks made by Lord Hardie during the trial.

These grounds of appeal were also rejected.

Docherty is due back in court at a later date when his lawyers will argue that the 25-year minimum sentence was too severe.

Dixon is also arguing that his police interview was unfair and appeal judges will rule on that issue after the Supreme Court has given a decision in a similar case.

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