Drink may have caused deaths

Two women allegedly murdered by a Dromore stonemason who had dated them both may have died from alcohol abuse, a court has been told.

A defence lawyer for pensioner Leslie Ross, 66, said drink could have claimed the lives of his former partners Michelle Bickerstaff, 47, and Margaret Weise, 50.

Justin Byrne made the claims in Newry Magistrates Court at an unsuccessful bail application for his client last week.

Ms Bickerstaff, a mother of four, was found dead in April 2012, while Ms Weise’s body was discovered in August 2007. Both women lived in Dromore.

Ross, from Meganlis Park in Dromore, was charged with their murders last August along with three other offences – indecent assault, gross indecency with a child and indecently assaulting a female child – all on dates between 1979 and 1990.

During the hearing in front of District Judge Paul Copeland, a police officer conceded there were no eye-witnesses to the alleged murders and the case against the defendant was circumstantial, and based on pathology and medical reports.

Mr Byrne, who said his client “vehemently denied” the charges, said there could be another explanation. He claimed both women had drink problems, with Ms Bickerstaff awaiting a liver transplant when she died.

“The reason for these women’s deaths could be down to alcohol and liver problems,” he told the court.

The officer said he was aware the women had “difficulties with alcohol”.

A prosecution lawyer told the judge there were “substantial grounds” for refusing bail for Ross – namely concern that Ross was at risk of offending on his release, the potential for him to interfere with witnesses and doubts he would comply with bail conditions.

The judge agreed there were sufficient reasons to continue to remand him in custody. Ross is expected to appear again via video-link on March 6.