The Billy Middleton trial heard yesterday that his nine-month-old daughter Annalise showed “no signs of life” when firefighters wearing breathing apparatus entered the family home in Brae during the blaze he is alleged to have started.
Retained firefighter Peter Robertson said he and a colleague had struggled to find the baby due to poor visibility in the house, 1 Burgadale, caused by the smoke, but eventually did so in a room upstairs.
Asked if the baby showed any signs of life, Mr Robertson, 21, replied: “There w[ere] no signs of life. There w[ere] a lot of signs of smoke inhalation. There was black round the mouth, nose and eyes.”
Earlier, neighbour Mark Smith had explained how he had broken the glass in the front door of the house and had been about to go inside to try to save Annalise when he was told by another firefighter that it was far too dangerous.
Middleton, 32, is on trial at the High Court in Aberdeen accused of murdering his daughter by wilfully setting fire to clothing, bedding and other materials under the stairs in the hallway on 20th September last year. He is also accused of attempting to murder a six-year-old girl and a three-year-old boy.
Middleton faces a further charge of sexually assaulting a woman while she was pregnant at another address in Shetland on various occasions. He has lodged the special defence of consent.
Mr Robertson gave evidence on the fourth day of the case, which is expected to last around 10 days.
Of the search, he told the jury: “We thought we heard a noise, we thought it was a baby but we weren’t very sure.”
Advocate depute Jock Thomson asked: “You were expecting to find a baby?”
He replied: “Yes.”
Mr Robertson said he eventually found a crib when he came across a gap in a wardrobe which was in the middle of the bedroom. Asked what he did next, he replied: “I went round to check the back [of the wardrobe] and that’s when visibility slightly improved and we saw the baby’s cot. I searched the cot and found the baby in the far left corner and made my way downstairs.”
Mr Thomson asked: “Did you take the baby to the casualty area?”
He replied: “Yes.”
Mr Robertson said he then left the baby with a colleague who tried to resuscitate her outside and went back in the property.
Giving his evidence, Mr Smith said he had managed to break the door window of the property and had tried to go in. But airport fire officer John Thorne, 39, told him it was “far too dangerous” to enter the house.
On Wednesday, the trial heard that Middleton had argued with his wife Kareen, 24, over flirting with teenage girls before the house went on fire. A 15-year-old girl, who cannot be named for legal reasons, said Middleton had helped the girls pitch a tent in the garden of the house. She claimed he made a flirty comment after they decided to take the tent inside the family home.
The girl said Middleton had bought the girls alcopops at the local shop and they had been having a good time.
Asked if the mood of the night had changed, she replied: “Kareen thought that Billy was flirting with us.”
Mr Thomson asked: “Do you know why she thought that?”
She replied: “He said to us ‘I wish I had met you two before I met my wife’.”
The girl said Middleton’s wife and her 14-year-old friend had been chatting in the kitchen at the time.
She said: “She came through to the sitting room and was shouting at Billy. Kareen and Billy continued to argue then he left the house for a few minutes.”
The court heard Middleton started arguing with her friend when he returned.
She said: “He started to blame her for everything that happened and said that she was causing trouble between them.”
Earlier the court heard Kareen had burst into tears because she had heard her husband flirting with one of the girls.
One of the teenagers, who was in the house, said she had also heard the comment while talking to his wife in the kitchen.
The teenager told the court Middleton had argued with his wife before she put on her jacket and left the house.
Asked what happened next, she replied: “Billy came in and said it was all my fault if she went off with another bloke. He said ‘whatever happens tonight’ was my fault. He was really angry, he was kind of raising his voice when he said it to me.”
She said the teenagers then went for a walk in the park and came back a short while later to find the house on fire.
Asked if she saw Kareen when she returned, she said: “I saw Kareen on the ground getting held down by about four or five people and she was screaming. She was screaming ‘my baby’.”
Earlier, a six-year-old girl who was staying in the house told how she had fled the family home when she was wakened up by a smoke alarm.
The child, who cannot be named for legal reasons and who gave evidence via a video-link, said: “I got out of my bed and ran downstairs. I screamed.”
She said she was with a three-year-old boy when she saw Middleton at his bedroom door.
She said: “He said ‘save yourselves’. That was when I went outside. I was in the square then went back and could see in the window there was flashing orange lights.”
Giving evidence on Tuesday Mrs Middleton wept as she relived the events of the night. She said she had been drinking alcohol with her husband and three teenage girls. She said she had been “laughing and joking” with her husband but had stormed out during the night.
Mr Thomson asked: “Did there come a time when you stormed out of the house?”
She replied: “Yes, I can’t remember why, I had quite a bit to drink.”
Asked what she saw when she returned to the house, she replied: “I think there was smoke coming out of the door. I was trying to get in. I couldn’t get in so I went to the other door. I was trying to break the window.”
Clutching a photograph of her children, she told the court that there were people pinning her to the ground to stop her getting back into the house.
Fighting back tears, she added: “That whole night and for about two weeks after, I can’t really remember much of.”
Mr Thomson then asked Mrs Middleton, of Lerwick, to read out a letter in court.
She told the jury that she had not seen the note until it was shown to her by a police officer.
Mrs Middleton said the note read: “I kept trying to tell you about Uncle Andy, lying b******”.
Asked how relations were between her uncle Andy and her husband, she said: “They weren’t very good at all.”
The court heard Mrs Middleton had stayed with her uncle Andy Williamson during a short separation from her husband.
Earlier the the jury heard evidence from a woman, who cannot be named, who claimed Middleton had tied her up during sex.
She said she had gone to the doctor for a check-up because he had sexually assaulted her while pregnant.
Meanwhile fire expert Andrew Wade said a naked flame was the “most feasible” cause of the fire.
He told the jury he believed burnt papers found at the bottom of curtains were the cause of the bedroom blaze.
On Monday the jury was shown photographs taken of the family home after the blaze.
Independent fire investigator Stuart Mortimore said an investigation found that two separate fires had been started “deliberately” in the hall and ground floor bedroom.
He said: “The hall had been subjected to a relatively sustained fire. The only evidence of fire damage was under the stairs.”
He ruled out the hall fire sparking the blaze in the bedroom. And he claimed the possibility of electrical items causing the fire was “extremely remote”.
He said the bottom of the bedroom curtains had been destroyed which was consistent with fire being ignited and set against the curtain.
His investigations also found that fire spreading from the hallway would have caused damage to the ceiling of the room.
However, he said: “Mr Middleton was reportedly found on the bed in the bedroom. Neither he nor his clothes exhibited heat damage.”
Mr Mortimore said that a dead cat was found in one of the upstairs bedrooms during the investigation.
He told the court the local authority owned house had suffered extensive fire damage, particularly on the ground floor.
He said: “When two fires are started at the same time, the only explanation is that the fires were started deliberately. These fires are separate and distinct. Deliberate ignition is the only likely cause for these fires.”
Mr Thomson asked: “Both fires in your conclusion were deliberately set?”
Mr Mortimore replied: “Yes.”
Earlier, police photographer Vicki Paterson told the jury she had been called to the house following the fire.
The court was shown photos of blackened walls and destroyed doors inside the property.
A baby’s highchair was seen in the kitchen and children’s toys strewn across the floors of the bedrooms.
The trial continues.