Dromore pensioner had been facing trial for more than 40 sexual offences

Leslie Ross. Pacemaker Press Belfast  22-08-2013
Leslie Ross. Pacemaker Press Belfast 22-08-2013

A 70-year-old Co Down pensioner who passed away earlier this week had been facing trial for dozens of sexual offences dating back more than four decades, it has been revealed.

Dromore stonemason Leslie Ross, who was at one time accused of murdering three of his former girlfriends, died from cancer on Wednesday, November 8.

A publicity ban concerning Mr Ross, who was eventually cleared of all murder charges, was finally lifted today (Friday) by Newry Crown Court where his latest trial, this time on a catalogue of unrelated sex offences, had been stopped last month.

The banning order was initially imposed in September 2015 when the first of three murder trials involving Mr Ross, of Mengalis Road in Dromore, was aborted following a week of legal arguments.

Today, defence QC Charles McKay successfully applied for all reporting bans to be lifted by Her Honour Judge McReynolds

Mr Ross’ latest trial, accusing him of a total of 44 sex charges, including rape, attempted rape and buggery, some dating back over 45 years, was stopped after he collapsed in the dock. Judge McReynolds later dismissed the jury.

But for losing his battle with cancer, Mr Ross, who has been the focus of police investigations since 2012, faced the prospect of yet another sex trial.

It is expected the prosecution authorities will now dismiss all further proceedings.

Mr Ross was first brought before Newry Magistrates Court in March 2015 for a preliminary hearing accused of murdering former lovers Elizabeth McKee, Margaret Weise and Michelle Bickerstaff, who each died almost five years apart between December 2002 and April 2012.

However, by the end of the hearing District Judge Peter King cleared Mr Ross of murdering 52-year-old mum of one, Elizabeth (Lily) McKee. She was found dead, in December 2002.

While he ruled there was sufficient evidence to return Mr Ross to the Crown Court on charges of murdering Ms Bickerstaff and Ms Weise, Judge King said he had his doubts in the prima facie case in that of Ms McKee.

“I am not so satisfied in relation to the death of Elizabeth McKee,” he said after the court heard how Ms McKee, who struggled with alcohol addiction, died with a blood alcohol reading of 500 milligrams per 100 millilitres.

“Fatalities occur at 350 milligrams,” Judge King added. “Even a hardened and seasoned drinker like Ms McKee would be comatosed.

“I cannot conclude that the defendant acted in respect of Ms McKee. I cannot return the defendant in respect of that charge.”

In September 2015 Mr Ross went on trial before an Armagh Crown Court jury accused of murdering 50-year-old Margaret Weise on August 31, 2007, and 47-year-old Michelle Bickerstaff on April 21, 2012.

However, following a week of legal applications and argument, this first trial was aborted. Mr Justice Burgess, who slapped the first publicity ban on the case, also ruled part of the evidence concerning Margaret Weise was inadmissible.

He also accepted a defence argument that the double murder trial “be severed” and each case dealt with separately. In the coming months there were to be three more jury trials concerning the murder of Michelle Bickerstaff.

Eventually by January 2016, a jury were directed to acquit Mr Ross of that murder when the prosecution, who said it was their duty to keep all cases under review, offered no further evidence.

Two months later Mr Ross was tried for the murder of Ms Weise, a registered blind person, who like Ms Bickerstaff, also had an on-off relationship with the pensioner.

However, within weeks of the trial starting, and following yet more legal argument, Mr Ross was acquitted of this killing too after Mr Justice Burgess directed the jury to find him ‘not guilty’.

Throughout each of the proceedings Mr Ross’ defence team always made the case that his former lovers and partners had, like himself, problems with alcohol.

They also maintained that any fatal injuries suffered by the women, whom it was recognised were prone to falls, could have been caused by these alcohol-related falls and not violence.

With Leslie Ross’ acquittals by direction, or otherwise, the claims that he was a “violent man” who killed his partners, and all the other claims surrounding this particular case remain just that, claims and allegations.

His solicitor Conleth Downey said of his client: “He was charged with three murders, effectively besmirching him as a serial killer”, but during subsequent “lengthy trials Leslie Ross challenged the manner in which the police carried out their investigations.

“All murder trials collapsed .... from the outset Leslie Ross steadfastly protested his innocence and he was entirely vindicated. A loyal client of over 30 years, he found it easy to accept my legal advice.”