Mother holds back tears as daughter's killers are brought to justice

‘She can rest in peace now’: Murdered Caroline Glachan’s mother holds back tears as her daughter’s three killers are finally brought to justice 27 years after her body was found in river

  • Caroline Glachan drowned after being attacked in the River Leven, a court heard 

The mother of murdered Caroline Glachan held back tears as her daughter’s killers were finally brought to justice 27 years after her body was found in a river.  

Three people were found guilty of murdering the 14-year-old schoolgirl in 1996, including her heroin addict boyfriend and a woman who was also seeing him behind her back.

Robert O’Brien, 45, Andrew Kelly and Donna Marie Brand, both 44, were unanimously convicted at the High Court in Glasgow of murdering Caroline, whose body was found in a river almost three decades ago. 

Miss Glachan’s mother Margaret McKeich said the guilty verdicts marked ‘a day we never thought we’d see’.

She choked back tears as she addressed the media outside the court following the verdict.  

Mrs McKeich said: ‘On behalf of Caroline’s dad and myself and my family, this is a day we never thought we would see… Caroline can rest in peace now.

‘I’d like to say a big thanks to DI Stuart and his team and to all the police that worked on it over the years.

‘I just don’t know what to say. This is a day… This has been a great day, I just can’t sum up how I feel. 

Miss Glachan’s mother Margaret McKeich said the guilty verdicts marked ‘a day we never thought we’d see’

The body of 14-year-old Caroline Glachan (pictured) was found in the River Leven in West Dunbartonshire

Robert O’Brien, 45, (pictured) was a heroin addict and several years older than Miss Glachan, who was ‘infatuated’ with him

Donna Brand (pictured) was seeing O’Brien at the time of Miss Glachan’s death behind her back

‘It will not bring her back, but at least we know that whoever is responsible is serving time for it, because for the past 25 years, they’ve lived their life, and they’ve had their Christmases and their birthdays, and our Caroline was in the ground.’

During the 10 days of evidence, the jury heard Miss Glachan’s boyfriend O’Brien, plus Brand and Kelly had arranged to meet her on August 25 that year at a bridge near the towpath beside the River Leven, between Renton and Bonhill in West Dunbartonshire. 

O’Brien – who boasted of having several girls on the go at the same time – had been seeing Brand at the same time as Miss Glachan, the court heard, with Brand threatening to ‘batter’ the 14-year-old when she found out. 

The trio assaulted Miss Glachan, who was said to be ‘infatuated’ with O’Brien, shouted and swore at her and repeatedly kicked and punched her on the head and body.

They threw bricks or ‘similar instruments’ causing blunt force injuries to her head and body, before pushing or causing her to fall into the river, and ultimately murdering her.

The court heard Miss Glachan sustained at least ten blows to the head and extensive skull fractures before entering the water on that 1996 night.

She was pushed or fell into undergrowth and her body was later discovered in the river at Place of Bonhill, Renton. 

Andrew Kelly (pictured) joined Brand and O’Brien in attacking and ultimately murdering the teenager

The jury retired to begin its deliberations on Tuesday and returned unanimous guilty verdicts for all three on Thursday afternoon.

During the trial, the court heard from Miss Glachan’s mother Margaret McKeich, who said her daughter was ‘infatuated’ with her boyfriend O’Brien, who then went on to murder her.

Mrs McKeich said her daughter had previously disclosed heroin addict O’Brien had ‘lifted his hands to her’.

She said she did not approve of her daughter’s relationship with O’Brien, known as Robbie, as he was a few years older than her.

Her daughter’s body was discovered on the day of her 40th birthday. Upon returning from celebrations in the early hours of the morning, Mrs McKeich realised her daughter was not at home.

She received the news that her body had been found the following day, on August 25.

Later in the trial, Miss Glachan’s childhood friend Joanne Menzies, 42, told the court O’Brien had threatened to kill Miss Glachan for ‘kissing another boy’, and that she had seen O’Brien bully the schoolgirl on more than one occasion.

Miss Glachan’s mother Margaret McKeich was emotional outside court as she told reporters: ‘This is a great day’

A police diver searches at the spot where schoolgirl, Caroline Glachan was found dead 27 years ago

Mrs McKeich (pictured) previously told the court she went out in the evening to celebrate her birthday, returning around 2am or 3am on August 25, but her daughter was not home

The accused threw bricks or ‘similar instruments’ at Caroline, causing blunt force trauma to her head and body

Dr Marjorie Turner, a forensic pathologist, told the court Miss Glachan’s ultimate cause of death was drowning.

She told the trial: ‘She was still alive when she went into the water. The drowning was the ultimate cause of death.’

In her conclusions, Dr Turner stated a head injury had caused the schoolgirl to ‘lose consciousness’ with ‘immersion in the water’ causing her to drown. 

The court heard she had injuries to her head and neck. 

Charges of assault against O’Brien were dropped during the trial.

Jurors also heard Brand ‘threatened to batter’ Miss Glachan after she found out O’Brien was seeing both of them at the same time and Brand was ‘unhappy’.

The court heard three people said George Graham, who is now dead, confessed to being responsible for the 14-year-old’s murder.

Witnesses including his then girlfriend Jean McIntyre, who is now dead; his cousin, Margaret Connolly, who was 16 at the time, and Mary Rose Connolly, who is also now dead, gave statements to the police, telling them Graham had confessed to murdering Miss Glachan.

O’Brien – who was 18 at the time – had always been a prime suspect due to his relationship with Caroline in 1996.

The cold-case murder was re-investigated again in 2020 as part of the huge Operation Fairing police probe.

Witnesses were spoken to again and fresh accounts given.

The evidence of four and a half year-old Archie Wilson – who detectives had met in 1996 – was pivotal to the prosecution.

He and his brother had been babysat that night by Kelly and his then girlfriend Sarah Jane O’Neill, who has since died. O’Brien and Brand had also ended up at Archie’s house.

Andrew Kelly, 44, is one of the three defendants found guilty of Caroline’s murder at court today

Donna Marie Brand, 44, was found guilty of murder at Glasgow’s High Court on Thursday

Now in his 30s, Archie was unfit to testify during the trial. His mum Elizabeth Wilson recalled how her son told her how he had been taken down to the River Leven late that night before witnessing a ‘lassie’ being ‘battered’ and fall into the water.

Miss Wilson had returned home hours after the killing to find Kelly sitting in shorts alone with her children.

He claimed Archie had urinated on him and the carpet.

The child insisted he did not and that it was a ‘wet’ O’Brien who had also been in the house and soaked the floor.

Archie then went on to state he had been taken down the River Leven while apparently being looked after.

Asked what he said happened, his mum told jurors: ‘He said they were down the Leven…that they were fighting with the lassie, that she ended up falling in and that they had battered the lassie.’

Both Miss Wilson and her son were interviewed in 1996, and the mother was again in 2020 when the case re-opened.

Miss Wilson admitted she had not wanted her young boy ‘involved’ at the time. But, asked by police what her reaction was when she discovered Caroline had been found in the river, she stated: ‘The blood just kind of drained from my face.

‘I just knew that the story Archie had told us was related to the body.’

Further crucial evidence emerged about the killers leaving Miss Wilson’s home that night despite denials they had.

Neighbour Linda Dorrian recalled two males and two females leaving around 11pm to midnight with the children and then returning.

She recognised Sarah Jane O’Neill and heard her calling one of the males ‘a p***k’. The other female – believed to be Brand – was described as ‘wailing’.

O’Neill was then said to have stated: ‘That was out of order. That was not meant to happen. That was a set up.’

In his closing speech, the prosecutor said they had not planned to murder Caroline, but that there had been ‘a plot to do harm to her’.

O’Brien was said to be the assailant who attacked the teenager with the other two responsible on an ‘art and part’ basis.

Mrs McKeich and other family and friends of Caroline were in court to hear the guilty verdicts.

After the verdicts, it emerged O’Brien tried to kill a stranger a decade after he murdered Caroline.

He shot Thomas McGlinchey with a crossbow in Dumbarton, also West Dunbartonshire in September 2006.

O’Brien was jailed at that time for 10 years and was described by a judge then as a ‘violent man prepared to use serious violence’.

Kelly had also since committed offences since the killing including being caught with an offensive weapon. Brand had no convictions.

After the verdict, prosecutor Mr Prentice told how the murder had been probed in 1996 and then again in 2002. 

No one was arrested before the case was initially reopened once more in 2019. 

Mr Prentice: ‘It became obvious that in 1996 there was a general reluctance from some witnesses to engage with police for fear of repercussions and information was withheld.

‘In the re-investigation, police found individuals had matured, fears diminished and allegiances changed.’

More than 200 statements were taken from people in 2019 who had not previously provided a statement to police. From this, officers built up a picture of evidence which discredited the alibi of the accused and ultimately led to these convictions.

Detective Inspector Stuart Grainger added: ‘At the heart of this is a mother, a father, extended family and friends who have had to endure years of not knowing who killed Caroline.

‘Their lives changed forever the day Caroline was murdered, they were robbed of having a future with her, watching her grow from a young girl to a young woman. Her future was robbed the night she met Robbie, Donna and Andrew

‘For years this community has lived under a dark cloud, wondering if Caroline’s killers walked among them. Nothing will bring Caroline back or lessen the heartache, her family and friends live with, but I hope that seeing those responsible paying for their crime offers them some level of comfort.’

The advocate depute handed an emotional victim impact statement from Mrs McKeich to judge Lord Braid.

Mr Prentice: ‘It is obvious that the sense of loss of Caroline – who was 14 and Margaret McKeich’s only child – is immeasurable.

‘It has not diminished over the years and that is obvious from the heartfelt statement.’

The trio were all remanded in custody and each face a life sentence when they return to the dock in the New Year.

Lord Braid told them: ‘You have all been convicted of what can be described as the brutal and depraved murder of Caroline Glachan.’

O’Brien and Kelly showed no emotion – Brand started sobbing as they were all lead handcuffed to the cells.

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