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Murder trial hears of frantic search for Alesha MacPhail

A 16-year-old boy denies raping and murdering the six-year-old schoolgirl on Bute.

Alesha MacPhail: Body found in woodland.
Alesha MacPhail: Body found in woodland.

The family of murdered Alesha MacPhail told a trial of the frantic search for the six-year-old when they realised she was missing from her bed.

Schoolgirl Alesha was spending the start of her summer break with her father and grandparents in the house they shared on the Isle of Bute when her body was found in woodland on July 2 last year.

A 16-year-old boy, who cannot be named because of his age, denies raping and murdering her, and attempting to hide evidence. He has lodged a special defence blaming Alesha's father's girlfriend.

At the High Court in Glasgow on Tuesday, father Robert MacPhail, 26, said he had sold cannabis to the accused teenager, and the jury was shown Facebook messages between the pair.

He said Alesha came for visits every second weekend and during the holidays, and "loved" spending time on the island in the Firth of Clyde, going to the beach and the park.

Mr MacPhail said he had put Alesha to bed for a final time at around 10.30 or 11pm the night before she was allegedly taken, and he went back to the bedroom he shared with his partner before going to sleep.

They were woken the next morning by his parents who told him she was not in her bed and they all searched under beds and in cupboards before taking the hunt outside to her favourite places, including the park.

Prosecutor Iain McSporran QC asked Mr MacPhail, who is unemployed: "Can you understand how it would be that Alesha could have left the house sometime during that night without you being aware of that happening?"

He replied "no."

Mr MacPhail said his relationship with Alesha's mother Georgina Lochrane in Coatbridge, North Lanarkshire, had broken down months after she was born.

He had been seeing Ms McLachlan, 18, for around two years before the murder of Alesha, and said the two "loved each other to bits".

Alesha's grandmother Angela King, 47, told the court Alesha and Ms McLachlan got on "great" and the youngster called her "Toto".

The court had earlier heard that the key to the lock on the front door of the top-floor flat was often left in the door during the day to allow family members to come and go.

Ms King said the key was still in the door when she went to bed in the early hours of July 2.

Alesha's grandfather Calum MacPhail, also giving evidence on Tuesday, was asked if he thought his son's girlfriend had ever been jealous of his granddaughter.

The 49-year-old replied: "No, if anything she seemed to really like having Alesha there."

He told the trial the family was asked to go to the local police station after Alesha's body was found.

Mr MacPhail said: "We were put into a room.

"Five minutes later, a police officer said: 'We have found her, but that she had passed...'."

Pictures of Alesha's naked body lying in woodland were earlier shown to the jury, with several people choosing to leave the public gallery before the images were displayed on court screens.

Crime scene examiners told how they photographed a pair of grey jogging bottoms and "Bawbag" brand boxer shorts located on the shore near Alesha's grandparents' home, with a hooded top found close by.

David Ferguson, who assisted the investigation, said the top pictured in a waste bin had been reported to the police by a member of the public.

He told the court he believed the top had been taken by police "and it had been found in a bin area by the police station".

The trial continues on Wednesday.

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