Page last updated at 22:09 GMT, Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Fire accused tried to save dogs

Stewart Blackburn
Stewart Blackburn has admitted throwing petrol about, which ignited

A teenager accused of murdering his girlfriend in a flat fire tried to return to the burning building to rescue his dogs, a court has heard.

Joe Simpson, 17, had been staying in the flat above the one shared by Stewart Blackburn and the girlfriend he is accused of murdering.

Earlier the trial heard Jessica McCagh, 17, had been knocked off her feet by a punch from Mr Blackburn.

He denies murdering Miss McCagh in Arbroath, Angus, on 25 April.

Mr Simpson described hearing an argument, and then silence, moments before a "boom" echoed through the block of flats.

He also described how he and four others in the flat above escaped down a smoke filled stairwell and even considered jumping to safety out of a first floor window during the incident.

Stewart Blackburn was in tears, in handcuffs. He was saying he wanted to get back into the house for his dogs
Joe Simpson

He said he had gone to the flat for a drink, along with other friends.

Mr Simpson said that on the night of the incident Jessica and Blackburn visited the upstairs flat in the early hours of the morning, but they were not allowed in.

He said that 10 to 20 minutes after they were refused entry he heard arguing coming from the flat below.

He said: "Stewart and Jessica were shouting at each other.

"It lasted half and hour.

"For a brief moment it went silent, then I heard a bang."

He said: "Smoke was coming through the door. It was so thick I couldn't see my own hand.

"Two of us were thinking of jumping out of the window."

Mr Simpson agreed with Neil Murray, QC for Blackburn, that the noise of the explosion was "a noise like nothing he had ever heard before" - a "big bang", or a "boom", then shouting and screaming.

Jessica McCagh
Jessica McCagh died of her injuries at Ninewells Hospital

He said when they got outside they could see only smoke, no flames, coming from Blackburn's flat.

In answer to questioning by Mr Murray, he said: "Stewart Blackburn was in tears, in handcuffs. He was saying he wanted to get back into the house for his dogs."

He agreed that, by that time, Jessica was out of the flat.

He said Blackburn, who was not wearing trousers, had burn marks on his legs.

The court heard earlier that Blackburn's two pet dogs died in the blaze.

Earlier, witness Barrie Scotthorne, 28, said he was standing outside his front door in Arbroath in the early hours of 25 April waiting for the police to arrive in connection with an unrelated incident.

'Punch' to the head

He said he became aware of a man and a woman, whom he identified as Stewart Blackburn and Jessica McCagh, arguing and shouting at each other.

He said he then saw Mr Blackburn pushing Miss McCagh into a neighbour's hedge.

The witness told the court: "She fell through the hedge. I heard Jessica shouting to Stewart that she loved him."

Mr Scotthorne said he was "concerned" and approached a crying Miss McCagh to see if she was all right but she got up and chased after Mr Blackburn.

"That's when I saw Stewart strike Jessica," Mr Scotthorne said.

He described the hit as a "punch" to the side of her head.

Blackburn denies murdering Jessica by pouring petrol over her and a bed in the flat which they shared, and setting her alight. He has tendered a plea of guilty to culpable homicide, by throwing petrol about in the flat, which then ignited and caused her injuries.

He has admitted that he fired at two neighbours with an air-rifle shortly before the incident, and that he was in possession of cannabis.

The trial, before Lord Bracadale, continues.

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