A verdict is expected in the Billy Middleton murder trial today after the prosecution and defence completed their closing speeches yesterday and the judge, Lord Kinclaven, said he would address jurors this morning before sending them out to consider their verdict.
Defence QC Jack Davidson told the jury at the High Court in Aberdeen that Middleton, whom he described as a “working family man”, would have had to have turned into a “fiend” in a matter of hours to kill his baby daughter Annalise by setting fire to the family home in Brae in the early hours of 20th September last year.
But advocate depute Jock Thomson said that although there was no forensic evidence linking Middleton directly to the fire and no admission of guilt, there was a very strong case based on circumstantial evidence.
Middleton, 33, is accused of murdering nine-month-old Annalise by wilfully setting fire to materials under the stairs in the hallway of the house, 1 Burgadale. He is also accused of attempting to murder a six-year-old girl and a three-year-old boy. He 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 on that charge.
Addressing the court, Mr Davidson said Middleton’s personality would have had to have morphed for him to carry out the crime. Jurors were being asked by the Crown to believe, he said, that “in the course of a few hours Mr Middleton has transformed himself from a working family man to a murderous fiend”.
Mr Davidson said Middleton became “extremely ill” after the fire. “Is it realistic to consider that if he were the callous murderer painted by the Crown he would imperil his own life to that extent?” he said.
Mr Davidson also questioned expert evidence that two fires had been set deliberately in the house, adding that “experts unfortunately like the rest of us make mistakes”.
In his remarks, Mr Thomson said the case was a “tragedy for all concerned as the life taken here had barely begun”. He said experts had previously stated that two fires had been deliberately started in the house. And other than children, Middleton was the only person in the house when the fire took effect, he said.
He admitted there was no forensic evidence or admission of guilt from Middleton. But he added: “What there is is a very strong case of circumstantial evidence.
“The separate parts taken together lead to the inescapable inference that the accused and only the accused is the person who started the fires and is responsible for the death of Annalise.”
On Wednesday, Middleton had wept in court as he took the witness stand to tell jurors how he tried in vain to save his baby daughter’s life. He said he felt like he had “done about three hours in the gym” after fighting through thick smoke to get to Annalise’s upstairs bedroom.
He described going to bed on the night of the fire following a row with his wife Kareen, who had already left the house. He said he had not been aware of any signs of fire but when a fire alarm sounded he opened his bedroom door to find “a considerable amount of dark smoke” in the hall.
Two children in the house, a boy aged three and a girl aged six, were screaming at the top of the stairs, he told jurors. The girl ran downstairs but the boy was “scared stiff” and he had to go to get him, said Middleton. He put them outside the house and told them he was “going to get Annalise”.
Pausing as he wept, he told Mr Davidson: “I tried to get up the stairs but the smoke seemed to be suddenly so much more. I got most of the way up but I started to choke, my eyes were really stinging – I could not get breath.”
He then “had to go and get fresh air”, he said, adding: “I must have made my way downstairs but all I can really remember is stumbling.”
Asked what effect the smoke had on him, he said: “I could hardly breathe, I could not see, I felt like I had done about three hours in the gym. I was really tired and weak.”
Mr Davidson later asked: “What condition are you in now as regards Annalise?”
Middleton said: “Very upset.”
The court had earlier heard a tape of the police officer with Middleton following the fire, during which he was accused of crying “crocodile tears”. Middleton was also said to have been “vague” in his answers during the interview.
But Middleton insisted to officers that he did not murder Annalise and “hated himself” for not being able to save her.
The interview was conducted by detective constable Martyn Brill and a colleague in Lerwick following the fire.
The officers asked him if he could explain how two fires could have started in quick succession in the house.
“No, this does not make sense to me,” he said.
He told the officers he did not hear the emergency services outside or his wife Kareen screaming for her baby.
When asked why he did not save Annalise when he was just “feet away” from her bedroom, he said that he “could not manage”.
“I hate myself for not getting there,” he added.
He was told by one officer: “Every time we ask you, it’s either a vague ‘I don’t know’ or crocodile tears.”
At another point Middleton denied he was pretending to cry and asked them: “Why are you doing this?”
“Why did you set the fires?” a detective asked him.
“I did not set the fires,” Middleton replied.
“Why did you murder your daughter?” he was asked.
“I did not murder my daughter,” he said.
Mr Davidson asked Mr Brill: “He was indignant to certain suggestions put to him by the tone of his voice?”
“Yes,” said Mr Brill.
On Friday the court heard that Middleton had blamed his wife for trying to kill his child minutes before he lost consciousness.
Police constable David Sweeney said Middleton was in a “fairly serious condition” when he was taken to hospital by ambulance.
But the policeman, who escorted him to Gilbert Bain Hospital, said the patient was chatting away to the paramedic while being given oxygen.
PC Sweeney told the High Court in Aberdeen he had taken notes of Middleton’s conversation.
He said Middleton told the paramedic: “I don’t care what happens to me as long as my children are okay.”
He said Middleton also asked if a 14-year-old girl, who was staying in the house, was safe.
Asked to read his notes out, he said Middleton had said: “Can you tell me where my wife is? Can you tell me if she is okay? I want my babies looked after by my mum not my wife. I want her to have custody now.
“We were supposed to be camping, it was cold so I took the tent inside. She tried to kill them, she walked off.”
PC Sweeney told the court: “The condition of Mr Middleton was becoming serious. At that point he lost consciousness.”
Junior counsel for the Crown Graham Maciver asked: “How long before the journey ended would that have been?”
Mr Sweeney replied: “About three miles from the hospital.”
The police officer told the court he had been called to the scene after a fire broke out at the house in Brae. He was instructed to help secure the area.
Mr Maciver asked: “What happened when you were setting up the cordon?”
He replied: “I was approached by paramedic Angus Gilbraith who told me a baby had been pronounced life extinct. He asked me to take the remains of the baby as they needed to focus on Mr Middleton. I had to seek permission to take the baby to the police vehicle.”
His colleague, police constable Lynne Falconer, said she arrived at the scene to find a male casualty in the garden being treated by firefighters.
She said: “I saw them pick up a baby and run with her to the ambulance but her limbs were floppy at that time.”
She said an officer who had been instructed to guard the door of the property found a note in the garden.
Asked to read it out, she said: “I kept trying to tell you about you’re [sic] uncle Andi. Lying b******!!!”
The police officer told the court she then went to the mortuary with the baby because she felt it was “not ideal” to have her lying in the back of the car.
Doctor Catriona Barr, who was working at Gilbert Bain Hospital, said Middleton was “extremely ill” when he arrived at the hospital.
The consultant anaesthetist told the court she managed to stabilise the 32-year-old before he was transferred to the intensive care unit at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary.
The court heard two other children, aged six and three, were examined but found to have no injuries.
The case continues.