Man on trial over NI girl's murder

 

The murder of a schoolgirl for which serial killer Robert Black stands accused bears remarkable similarities to the death of one of his victims, his trial has heard.

Forensic pathologist Nathaniel Cary told Armagh Crown Court the fact the cases of Jennifer Cardy and Sarah Harper were so alike was very important because child abductions were so rare.

The jury also heard another senior pathologist claim he felt pressured by the Crown to alter elements of his testimony ahead of the trial starting.

Black (64), is charged with kidnapping and murdering nine-year-old Jennifer as she cycled to a friend’s house in the Co Antrim village of Ballinderry in 1981.

He denies the counts.

Black has already been convicted of three child murders - one of which was the 1986 killing of 10-year-old Sarah Harper, who vanished from Morley near Leeds.

On the 11th day of the trial, Dr Cary told the jury the circumstances of the two girls’ deaths were “remarkably similar”.

“These cases are very rare,” he added. “So if a rare thing has similar features that’s an important point.”

Both girls were found dumped in water, Jennifer in a dam 10 miles from her home near Hillsborough, Co Down, and Sarah in the River Trent near Nottingham.

With Black listening from the dock, Dr Cary said there were similar marks on both victims’ bodies and both may have been still alive, albeit possibly unconscious, when they were put in the water.

He said there were clear signs of a serious sexual assault on Sarah’s body, and while there were no such visible injuries on Jennifer he believed the evidence indicated she had also been interfered with.

Black was found guilty of Sarah’s murder at Newcastle Crown Court in 1994. At that trial he was also convicted of killing 11-year-old Susan Maxwell from the Scottish borders in 1982 and Edinburgh girl Caroline Hogg, five, a year later.

Dr Cary, who has worked on high profile cases such as the 2002 Soham murders and the Ipswich prostitute killings of 2006, said Susan and Caroline’s bodies were so badly decomposed when they were recovered it was not possible to make the same forensic examinations as with Jennifer and Sarah.

Dr Cary followed former Northern Ireland state pathologist Professor Thomas Marshall into the witness box.

It has emerged that they came to different conclusions on Jennifer’s cause of death and whether she was sexually assaulted.

Prof Marshall stands by his autopsy report of 1981 in which he stated drowning as the cause of death and indicated he had found no evidence of sexual assault.

Dr Cary does not rule out drowning but forwarded three alternative suggestions:

That she was asphyxiated with the use of a ligature; that she was rendered unconscious with the ligature and then thrown into the water and left to drown; that she had a ligature tied round her neck but escaped and then drowned as she tried to get away. He said this scenario was the least likely.

But Dr Cary insists that Jennifer was sexually assaulted and claims pathology techniques and evidence used today to determine such injuries were not available in the 1980s.

Earlier, Prof Marshall expressed unease about a meeting he had with Crown lawyers in 2008 to discuss Dr Cary’s review of his findings and ascertain whether he would give evidence at the trial.

“I think at that moment there was a little pressure for me to alter the opinion I had given in 1981,” he said.

“I’ve a recollection of feeling I was being asked to say something which I didn’t believe in.

“I do remember coming away from the meeting feeling that I had to resist being pressurised.”

Crown counsel Toby Hedworth QC asked Prof Marshall if his findings ruled out sexual assault.

The retired pathologist said his examination results did not contradict possible sexual interference, just that he had found no evidence of it.

Dr Cary said Prof Marshall was highly respected in his field and he felt a “little uncomfortable” at having to disagree with some of his conclusions.

But he stressed there was not a major dispute, just a different emphasis on findings.

With regard to the cause of death, he said that how Jennifer died did not alter the facts of what had broadly happened to her.

“I actually don’t think it matters, because if drowning took place it was clearly as a result of being abducted and dumped in water,” he said.

After Jennifer was pulled from the water, a stain which forensic scientists believed was blood was found on her underwear. Swabs taken from her body also showed traces of suspected blood.

The trial heard that Prof Marshall was not made aware of these discoveries when he carried out his 1981 postmortem examination.

Dr Cary said the forensic scientists should have told the state pathologist about those facts.

Jennifer’s parents, Andy and Patricia, watched from the public gallery, leaving for a short time when a black and white photo of Jennifer from the post-mortem examination was shown to the court.