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Stone mason arrested over Dromore deaths

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A 66-year-old man has been arrested by police investigating the deaths of three women in Co Down in the past 11 years.

Leslie Ross, 66, from Dromore, Co Down, was detained in the quiet market town in connection with the three fatal incidents over an 11 year period.

Michelle Bickerstaff, 47, died in April last year; Margaret Weise, 50, in August 2007 and Lily McKee, 52, in December 2002.

It is understood two of the women died after suffering physical injuries, with officers working to establish how they were caused, with the other death attributed to organ failure.

Mr Ross, from Meganlis Park not far from the town square, was arrested last year in the wake of Ms Bickerstaff’s death but was released unconditionally.

Today’s move by police comes after detectives carried out a review of the three separate cases.

The craftsman, who has been taken to Antrim police station for questioning, is also being quizzed about other offences relating to other women.

Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson, who knew Ms McKee and Ms Bickerstaff, said the community was in shock.

“Dromore is one of the oldest towns in Northern Ireland and nothing like this has ever happened in the history of the town,” he said.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has not publicly described the deaths as murders and the investigation is being led by district-based detectives, not by the specialist PSNI Serious Crime Branch officers who head up probes into major criminal acts in the region.

The families of all three women have been informed by police of the arrest.

The Serious Crime Branch is providing support to the Lurgan (Co Armagh) based detectives leading the investigation.

Mr Ross was said to frequent a number of bars in Dromore, including the Market Bar.

One local at the Market Bar said he was a well known face.

“I also knew all three of the women,” he said “They had their problems in life.”

It is understood Mr Ross’s family owned a bar in Castlewellan, which was blown up during the Northern Ireland troubles.

Relatives moved to Rathlin Island off Ireland’s North Coast.

Mr Ross later moved to Dromore where it is understood he lives alone in a white-painted terraced house. Today at the property there were signs of graffiti having being painted over.

Neighbours said he once owned a bar in the area, since demolished, and also had interest in other properties further afield.

“He is quiet and keeps himself to himself. He lives alone,” said Barbara Boyd, 54.

Ms Bickerstaff, a mother of four, was a regular at the Drop Inn shop on the town square where she came to sift through rails of clothes or for a chat with staff.

She would have also visited a charity cafe run by volunteers in the centre of the town.

“She was a nice woman, she would have been in here regularly,” one shop assistant said.

Democratic Unionist Mr Donaldson said relatives of the women would need support in the period ahead.

“The community in Dromore is very close and tight knit and the community is shocked by the news today,” he said.

“My first thoughts are with the families and we will be bearing them up in prayer and I know the community will offer all the support they can to each family.”

Jenny Dickson, only daughter of Ms McKee, said her mother was in a relationship with the suspect for 11 years.

“I know that the police have been working hard with these cases and I am not prepared to give any details as I would not want to jeopardise their inquiry and we want to see justice,” she said.

She said her mother was fun and active, kind with a good sense of humour. She did charity work and supported the Ulster Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

“She was a great person,” she added.

She maintained her own flat in the town but lived with him from time to time. She was divorced.

Kenneth Spratt, a bystander in the town centre, said he knew the women well.

“They were good, lovely women,” he said. He added: “They were all fun girls”.

Detectives from PSNI Serious Crime Branch took on the lead in the investigation and made a specific appeal for information.

Detective Chief Inspector Richard Harkness asked anyone in Dromore with knowledge about the deaths to contact officers.

“We are keen to speak with anyone who may have any information which could assist us and I would urge members of the community in Dromore to contact us,” he said.

“People may have been reluctant to come forward in the past but I can assure you that any information given to the police will be treated in the utmost confidence.

“Your information could provide us with the vital link to enable us to bring this investigation to a successful conclusion.”

They urged anyone with information to contact detectives on 028 3831 5339 or alternately through independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

 

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