Caroline Glachan: Three guilty of murdering schoolgirl 27 years agoon December 14, 2023 at 4:02 pm

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The body of Caroline Glachan was found on a riverbank in 1996 but her killers have only now been brought to justice.

Caroline Glachan

Two men and a woman have been found guilty of the murder of a schoolgirl in West Dunbartonshire more than 27 years ago.

The body of Caroline Glachan, 14, was discovered on the banks of the River Leven in Renton on 25 August 1996.

Robert O’Brien, 45, Andrew Kelly and Donna Marie Brand, both 44, were convicted after a trial at the High Court in Glasgow.

The killers were all teenagers at the time of Caroline’s murder.

During the two-week trial, the jury heard Caroline was “infatuated” with O’Brien and left her home in Bonhill before midnight to meet him at the Black Bridge.

But soon after she arrived, the teenager was subjected to what prosecutor Alex Prentice KC described as a “horrific and violent attack”.

Her body was discovered by a passer-by that afternoon, face down in the river.

The jury heard locals identified her from her trainers and blue Chipie sweatshirt.

A post-mortem examination revealed Caroline had suffered at least 10 blows to the head and extensive skull fractures.

Robert O'Brien, Andrew Kelly and Donna Marie Brand

Image source, Spindrift

The jury heard she may have been alive but was most likely unconscious when she entered the water.

In a cruel twist, the date on her death certificate was also her mother Margaret’s 40th birthday.

The now former Strathclyde Police force launched a massive murder investigation and the case twice featured on the BBC’s Crimewatch UK programme.

However, a breakthrough eluded detectives until Police Scotland’s Major Investigation Team re-examined the evidence in the summer of 2019.

The killers had maintained they spent the night in 12 Allan Avenue in Renton, which is directly opposite the Vale of Leven Academy.

‘Massive commotion’

But while officers were re-interviewing residents from the time they finally made a discovery which challenged the killers’ alibi.

Linda Dorrian had spotted four individuals, including Kelly and his girlfriend, the late Sarah Jane O’Neill, leaving the flat before midnight with four-year old Archie Wilson and his baby brother Jamie.

Kelly and O’Neill had been babysitting the two boys, and were then joined by O’Brien and his girlfriend Brand.

When they returned to the flat more than an hour later, Ms Dorrian heard a massive commotion and an argument.

This account also enabled officers to corroborate testimony given by Archie.

Caroline was filmed in her local youth club performing a dance based on the Karate Kid movie

His evidence proved to be the key to finally convicting O’Brien, Kelly and Brand.

The day after Caroline was attacked, Archie told his mother Betty that he had been at the river and had witnessed fighting and a girl falling into the water.

In the video of his police interview, the boy was sitting on an armchair, so small his legs didn’t even reach the edge of the cushion.

He was chatty and bubbly with floppy fair hair, a pronounced west of Scotland accent and was playing with a drawing toy.

While the two male police officers asked questions about what he saw that night, Archie – who had just started school – answered in a matter-of-fact manner.

He also interspersed his answers with questions like: “What should I draw now?”

But when the focus returned to the fateful night, Archie told them: “I saw Caroline in the water”.

He also revealed he saw O’Brien hit Caroline with a stick and a metal pole, and that when she was pushed in the water he closed his eyes.

Joanne Menzies

Caroline’s best friend, Joanne Menzies, told BBC Scotland News that she always regretted not accompanying her to Renton on the night she died.

“I warned her not to go but she was adamant that she was going,” she said.

“She gave me her house keys and said: ‘I’ll be back up before my mum gets in’.”

Joanne said she never liked O’Brien and admitted she was scared of him.

Around 19:00 the following evening, Joanne broke the news to Caroline’s mum Margaret that her only child was dead.

She recalled: “I will never forget Margaret’s reaction. I just saw a broken woman.”

Mother-of-three Joanne said she always thinks about her friend – who she described as being “so full of fun” – and regularly visits her grave.

Julie O'Sullivan and Donna Talbot

Caroline’s friends Julie O’Sullivan and Donna Talbot also gave evidence at the trial.

Donna admitted she had dreaded the prospect, but said she felt “empowered” in court.

“It was like: ‘Bring it on. I am doing this for Caroline’,” she said.

Asked what made Caroline special, she said: “It was her smile – she had the most beautiful smile.

“She was such a happy, cheerful wee soul.”

Julie said Caroline was “so big on family” and described her as a “wee blether” who loved to chat.

‘Always smiling’

She told BBC Scotland News: “She was a bundle of energy.

“Caroline could just walk into a room and literally just light the place up, she was just always smiling, full of life, full of fun, full of cheek, full of banter.”

Julie said she could not imagine what her friend would be like now as a 41-year-old.

She said: “It’s hard to talk about that because she just is like always a child to us.

“She is always 14 because her life was taken at the age of 14.”

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