How sick couple killed vulnerable woman they were caring for and claimed £182k in benefits in her name over 17 years

WHEN Margaret Fleming's dad died of cancer, she may have the lost the only person who ever really loved her.

Aged just 19 in 1997, heartbroken Margaret was sent to live with a couple her father hoped would give her a good life when he was gone – but instead they hatched a twisted plot to take her life away and make wads of blood money for themselves in the process.

Edward Cairney and Avril Jones took Margaret, who had learning difficulties, into their home in the quiet village of Inverkip, Scotland.

There they cut her off from the outside world completely and enjoyed the cash benefits they received as Margaret's carers.

But giving care was the last thing they were doing to Margaret, ultimately deciding to kill her around the turn of the millennium.

Shockingly, it took nearly 17 years for anyone to enquire as to her whereabouts – by which point Cairney and Jones had trousered £182,000 in fraudulent benefits.

Now a new series of Murder at My Door with Kym Marsh tells the appalling story of how Margaret was horrifically betrayed by those who were supposed to protect her.

"Margaret was simply a forgotten person," says criminologist Dr Mohammed Rahman in the documentary.

"She was an individual that was vulnerable. We have this notion that because they’re receiving guardianship and that they’re receiving financial support from the state that their wellbeing is catered for and looked after.

"Yet, they’re some of the most overlooked and neglected individuals.”

'Horrible moaning inside the house'

Margaret had been extremely close to her lawyer dad Derek – leaving her utterly distraught when he passed away just eight weeks after being diagnosed with terminal cancer.

In his will, Derek asked for Cairney and Jones to become Margaret's guardians after meeting them through work.

But once the couple got their hands on her, it was clear they hadn't agreed to take Margaret in out of the kindness of their hearts.

Iain McSporran QC, who ultimately prosecuted Cairney and Jones, recalls one particularly disturbing sign that something was wrong in the documentary.

"There was an occasion at a family celebration when Avril’s brother and family had come up to Inverkip and he heard this horrible moaning sound from within the house as he was speaking to his sister outside in the garden," McSporran says.

He looked into the window and saw Margaret, who had "two lengths of cardboard tubing or guttering" on her arms, appearing "clearly distressed".

Jones told her brother it was to stop her self-harming.

The unsettling sight was one of the last times anyone other than Cairney and Jones would see Margaret alive.

'Don't tell me they've done her in'

Margaret was seen for the final time in December 1999 – no one would ask where or how she was until 2016.

Authorities became interested in her wellbeing after Jones filed an application for personal independence payment (PIP) on Margaret's behalf.

Jones had happily been receiving cash as Margaret's carer for years but the new benefits system meant she had to reapply.

And the application sent to the Department of Work and Pensions contained some extremely distressing details.

It said that Margaret, who would have been 35 at this point, couldn't go into the kitchen of their house as she'd previously been caught trying to eat out of the dogs' bowl.

A worried social worker called Jones right away asking to speak with Margaret – but Jones told her Margaret was terrified of authority and wouldn't speak.

And after a visit to the couple's household, which was in such a state it appeared abandoned, the social worker referred the case to the police.

When two officers arrived at the house in late 2016, Jones let them in – where they found the place completely covered in junk.

But there was no sign of Margaret, who Jones said had just gone out for a walk with Cairney.

That story fell through when they found Cairney still in the house – he told the cops Margaret must have just run away of her own accord.

With suspicions raised, the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) got involved and went to visit Jean McSherry, who'd been with Margaret's dad Derek for three years before he died.

They were desperate to find anyone who might know what had happened to her.

"They asked me did I know Margaret Fleming?" Jean says.

"And I went: ‘Oh don’t tell me they’ve done her in.’ That was my exact words.

"‘Oh no, she’s just missing,' she said. I actually nearly collapsed.

"I couldn’t get over it. I couldn’t sleep for weeks.”

Web of lies

With no sign of Margaret, police began a huge search to find answers as to what happened to her.

None of her belongings were found and, after extensive testing, her DNA wasn't found on any of the countless items in the house either.

“That is something that is strange," says David Swindle, former senior investigating officer of Strathclyde Police.

"That is something that makes you think: ‘Has there been a cover-up?' Or: ‘Has harm come to her some time ago?’"

And Cairney and Jones' story got even more questionable when Jones' mum informed cops that the couple told her Margaret had run off with a traveller in 2000.

Despite police consulting the records of doctors, banks, education boards, social media companies and others, no one had any record of her.

The ground around Cairney and Jones' house was dug up, rivers were searched by divers, and a drone scanned the area – but all efforts to prove Margaret was still alive were fruitless.

And the Cairney kept changing his story, ultimately accusing Margaret of having really been a gangster, citing a letter allegedly sent to them by Margaret from a London hotel in 2000.

"I was raging," Jean said when she heard Cairney's story.

"How dare you? Wrong. Margaret wasn’t a gangster.

"She’d never get involved with anything like that.

"He just wanted to cover his back.” 

'Find her at the bottom of the sea'

The letter supposedly sent by Margaret to the couple from the London hotel proved to be the killers' undoing.

While cops couldn't find a single belonging of Margaret's in the thousands of items in the couple's home, they did find an invoice from the hotel Margaret allegedly sent the letter from.

It showed a couple in the name of Jones had stayed in the hotel on the exact night Margaret had also purportedly been there.

And another curious document caught prosecutors' attention.

Jones kept a little Christmas card book where, every year, she ticked who she sent cards to and who she received cards from.

There were ticks next to Margaret's name in 1997, '98, and '99, but no ticks after that.

Despite not having a body, prosecutors charged the couple with Margaret's murder, which they believed to have taken place some time between December 1999 and January 2000.

They were both found guilty of the killing in 2019, along with being convicted of perverting the course of justice.

Jones was additionally found guilty of fraudulently claiming £182,000 in benefits.

They were both sentenced to life with a minimum of 14 years.

But heartbreakingly, to this day neither of them have revealed what happened to Margaret or where her body is.

"You’ll find her at the bottom of the sea," Jean says, possibly because Cairney is a qualified deep sea diver.

"I’m still convinced, nothing will change me. She’s at the bottom of the sea.”

Jean adds: "Margaret came from Port Glasgow.

"I want to get a bench to be put up in the shopping centre and get a plaque put on it for her so that she’ll never, ever be forgotten.

“I wanted to bring her up as mine. She’d have had a good life.”

Murder at My Door with Kym Marsh starts tonight at 9pm on CRIME+INVESTIGATION

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