Page last updated at 16:36 GMT, Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Teenager's fire death was 'evil and barbaric'

Stewart Blackburn
Stewart Blackburn denies murdering 17-year-old Jessica McCagh

A teenager who died in a fire at her boyfriend's Angus home was "murdered pure and simple", a court has heard.

Prosecutor Frank Mulholland QC said Jessica McCagh, 17, had died as a result of a "barbaric and evil act against a defenceless young woman".

Miss McCagh died on 25 April at the home in Arbroath she shared with 18-year-old boyfriend Stewart Blackburn.

He denies murder by dousing her in petrol and lighting it but has admitted culpable homicide.

Mr Mulholland, the solicitor-general, said Mr Blackburn had threatened to burn the McCagh's family home with petrol nine months earlier, after he and Miss McCagh had fallen out.

These were the actions of a very angry man - a man in a rage
Frank Mulholland QC
Prosecuting

He told the the High Court in Livingston this "demonstrated a capacity to use fire fuelled by petrol as a weapon if he did not see Jessica again".

He also reminded the jury of evidence during the nine-day trial that Mr Blackburn had punched Miss McCagh with "full force" on the side of her head on their way to the flat where she died.

Once inside the flat he had punched a mirror, causing it to break and fall, the court heard.

"These were the actions of a very angry man - a man in a rage," Mr Mulholland said.

"It is evident that Jessica paid the ultimate price for his foul temper - with her life."

'Horrific' evidence

Mr Mulholland said the "key issue" in the case was how Miss McCagh came to burn to death, and said the Crown had proved beyond reasonable doubt that Mr Blackburn had thrown petrol over her and set her on fire.

It was the unanimous opinion of the forensic scientists who had given evidence that the fire had been started by a naked flame, he told the jury.

Stewart Blackburn was not murderous. Stupid? Yes. Lying? Yes. Murderous? No
Neil Murray QC
Defending

Mr Mulholland said that to place a naked flame within a centimetre of petrol-soaked clothing, as one of the scientists had suggested, was either a deliberate act or an act so reckless as to be murder.

Neil Murray QC, defending, said the evidence in this case was "horrific" but urged the jury not to be swayed by emotion.

He said they must not speculate or make up conclusions in the absence of evidence.

Mr Murray said the Crown had not proved murder and that the jury should return a verdict of culpable homicide.

"Stewart Blackburn was not murderous. Stupid? Yes. Lying? Yes. Murderous? No," he added.

Mr Blackburn denies murder, assault, and causing a breach of the peace by discharging an air rifle.

The judge, Lord Bracadale, said he would send the jury out on Wednesday morning to consider the verdict.



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