The family of nine-month-old baby Annalise Middleton have spoken out after a jury failed to convict her father Billy of murdering the child in a house fire last year.
Mr Middleton walked free from the High Court in Aberdeen on Friday after a not proven verdict was returned by a jury of 10 women and five men.
He had denied setting fire to his bedroom and hallway in the Burgadale housing estate in the early hours of 20th September last year following a row with his wife Kareen.
Little Annalise, who had been sleeping in an upstairs room, died in the blaze.
The jury also returned a not proven verdict to two charges of attempting to murder two children, aged three and six, and a charge of indecent assault against a woman at another address in Shetland.
Speaking after the trial, Mrs Middleton said she was “disappointed” that justice had not been served.
“I would like to say how disappointed we are by the fact that justice has not been done for Annalise.
“The fire investigators explained how there were two fires deliberately set in our house. One of those fires took my daughter’s life. I was not at the house when this happened and for that I will never forgive myself.”
Mrs Middleton’s uncle, Andy Williamson, said the family had been let down by the jury.
“We feel justice has not been done for Annalise. We feel the jury made a weak decision in the face of overwhelming evidence in the court case.
“We think they ignored the fire experts that were there and all their evidence. They made a bad decision, and that’s why we feel there is no way there should have been a not proven verdict.
“Kareen is upset and angry and feels there is no justice. That’s the way we all feel, after a very thorough police investigation and a well-put prosecution.”
In a prepared statement released this week, Mr Middleton maintained his innocence and said he wished to put the matter behind him.
“I can’t and won’t pretend that Kareen’s comments have not hurt bitterly, nor do I wish to try and explain them, but I am acutely aware that the woman I saw in court was not the wife I was taken away from,” Mr Middleton said.
“She is quite obviously hurt and grieving as I am, angry and in need of someone to blame.
“But sadly she has not been afforded the knowledge of all the facts as I have, and I am confident that if she were her trauma would be easier to come to terms with.
“I am very proud of how strong and resolute she remained for as long as she did and harbour no ill feeling towards her what so ever.”
He said he was “shocked and appalled” by the “additional pressures” Mrs Middleton endured when she “should have been receiving comfort and support”.
Mr Middleton said he was “100 per cent sure” the fire was “nothing more than a tragic accident,” although he declined to comment how it may have started.
“Neither my family nor me should ever have to endure what we have, none of us deserve it, not least my wife and children who have now lost much more than they needed to.
“Not proven, while an acquittal, will never be adequate for me as a verdict. Annalise’s memory should never have been marred by the suggestion I could have any part in her tragic death.”
Mr Middleton said he was “forever indebted” to his solicitors George Matthers, Neil McRobert and QC Jack Davidson who had remained professional and respectful throughout the trial.
“But for now I need time to grieve, something I have not been able to do where I was.
“I would respectfully request that we be left in peace to do so.”
Mrs Middleton was too upset to speak to The Shetland Times this week. However, she did send a prepared statement describing Annalise as “bright, intelligent and beautiful with big, sparkly, blue eyes, full of fun and mischief and cheeks that glowed with every smile.
“She had a right to life, a right to open her first birthday present, walk her first steps and do everything life has to offer.
“Its hard to believe that these rights have been stolen away from her and she will never get the chance to do the wonderful things in life we all take for granted.
“She was a very happy, healthy baby – very loving – and I miss her many kisses and cuddles so much. She gave me, and everyone around her, so much joy.”
Standing in the dock last Friday, Middleton did not flinch as the not proven verdicts were read out.
The jury deliberated for just over two hours and reached their decision by a majority on all four charges.
Sitting behind him in court, Middleton’s family wept and embraced as the jury spokesman delivered their decision.
During the 10-day trial the court heard he had been drinking at his home with his wife and three teenage girls.
His 24-year-old wife claimed she had stormed out of the house after a row, only to find it on fire when she returned.
Police later found a note scrawled in crayon in the garden and handwriting experts later found it was “highly probable” it had been written by Middleton.
The note read: “I kept trying to tell you about you’re (sic) uncle Andi. Lying b******!!!”
A 15-year-old girl, who cannot be named for legal reasons, claimed Kareen had fallen out with her husband because she overheard her husband flirting with the girls.
She said Middleton, who had been drinking whisky, had told them: “I wish I had met you two before I met my wife.”
The girl claimed the mussel farmer started blaming the teenager for causing problems in his relationship with his wife.
The girls left the property after the argument, leaving three young children sleeping in the house with Middleton.
Fire crews were called to the scene. But by the time they battled with thick smoke to get to the child’s bedroom upstairs, the baby was motionless.
Paramedic Jason Redfern told the jury he had given the baby mouth-to-mouth resuscitation but pronounced her dead.
The court also heard that Middleton had blamed his wife for trying to kill his child while he was in the back of the ambulance on the way to hospital.
Middleton broke down in tears as the medic was giving evidence.
The court then heard a taped police interview taken at Lerwick Police Station two weeks after the blaze.
Middleton consistently maintained his innocence throughout saying: “I didn’t do it.”
After the case a spokesman for Northern Constabulary said: “We note the decision of the High Court today. Officers carried out a full and thorough investigation into the death of Annalise Middleton.
“It was a committed and professional investigation by a team who explored all possible lines of enquiry.
“This is a particularly tragic case given the age of the child and our thoughts are clearly with Annalise’s family.”