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Natalie McNally: Full file against alleged killer Stephen McCullagh ready next month, court hears

Stephen McCullagh - the man accused of the murder of Lurgan mum-to-be Natalie McNally

The PPS will have the “full file” against alleged killer Stephen McCullagh in six weeks, their lawyer confirmed today (Friday).

A prosecuting lawyer told Craigavon Magistrates’ Court she had received an email from the senior prosecutor who is dealing with the case “and the full file will be in by the end of August”.

Defence counsel Damien Halleron raised no objections to a four week adjournment and District Judge Bernie Kelly put the case back to August 11.

MCullagh, from Woodland Gardens in Lisburn but who was not produced to the videolink booth at Maghaberry Prison to listen to the brief mention of his case, is in custody accused of the murder of 32-year-old mum-to-be Natalie McNally on December 18, last year.

Ms McNally was 15 weeks pregnant with McCullagh’s child when she was stabbed in her home on Silverwood Green in Lurgan on December 18 and according to the police case, McCullagh was double gloved, forensically aware and had created himself a false alibi in the meticulously planned, “sophisticated, calculating and cool headed plot” to kill her.

When McCullagh was first charged in January, a prosecuting lawyer described how “every moment had been carefully thought through and it’s only due to painstaking police work and sophisticated cyber evidence that he hasn’t got away with it.”

McCullagh had been arrested immediately after Natalie’s body was discovered but was de-arrested as a suspect when police found a six hour YouTube video which McCullagh broadcast on the night of the murder.

It transpired however that video, showing McCullagh playing Grand Theft Auto, had been pre-recorded a week before and the police believe he intentionally used that as a fake alibi.

Describing the investigation as “complex,” DCI Magennis told the court that according to the police case the alleged killer, carrying a “distinctive” Asda bag for life, took a bus from Dunmurry to Lurgan, all the while taking “careful” steps to conceal his face using a hood and scarf.

He said the quality of the cctv on the bus was excellent and from that, he claimed that a black rucksack could be seen inside the Asda bag and also that the suspect was wearing two pairs of gloves.

The senior detective also outlined that throughout the 90 minute journey, the man sits “motionless, except to check his face is covered,” including when he “awkwardly” takes a drink from a bottle of Coke.

Getting off the bus at the stop closest to the victim’s house, the bag carrying, masked man then walks to Ms McNally’s house where he spent 40 minutes and after “completely changing his clothes,” he took a taxi to Lisburn and was dropped close to McCullagh’s house.

Conceding that only the man’s nose was visible, the DCI said the quality of the cctv from the bus was of such a standard police believed facility mapping experts can use it and claimed further that the gait, stride and build of the man in the cctv, before and after the stabbing, is the same.

DCI Magennis said the taxi driver had shown police where he dropped the fare and while he wasn’t familiar with Lisburn, the GPRS in his taxi confirmed the location.

The officer said while McCullagh’s phone couldn’t be used to put him at the scene, the device showed “absolutely no activity whatsoever” from 6pm until it was “swiped open” at 11.16, which was just three minutes after the taxi dropped its fare nearby.

“That’s strange behaviour in itself,” said the cop, “that there’s no movement or activity for five hours at a significant time.”

Turning to the YouTube broadcast, DCI Magennis said that on the day of the murder McCullagh told his 37,000 followers he would be broadcasting live that evening but that he was “having trouble with his set up” so while he would be streaming, he would not be interacting with viewers’ comments.

It was this video, he told the court, which had initially provided McCullagh “an alibi for the time that she was attacked and murdered” and was the reason McCullagh’s status changed from suspect to witness.

Even when he was downgraded, and with cops urging him to help as he was the only person who had first hand experience of the murder scene as he had discovered Natalie’s body, McCullagh refused to co-operate with investigators, the court heard.

The investigation also revealed that a week before he was re-arrested and ultimately charged, McCullagh had left his phone at the home of Natalie’s parents, leaving it surreptitiously on record for 40 minutes as, according to the officer, he tried to ascertain details about the investigation and whether they believed he was a suspect.

McCullagh was upgraded back to suspect status after “highly trained experts in cyber crime,” along with the NCA, ascertained the YouTube stream had actually been pre-recorded.

Arrested and questioned as a suspect, McCullagh admitted he had recorded the streaming video five days before the murder but claimed that on the night Natalie was stabbed to death, he had been drinking and fell asleep.

He did also admit, the court heard, that someone came to his house at the same time the taxi dropped its fare nearby and he “proffered a few names” as to who it might have been.

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