The mother of six-year-old Alesha MacPhail has spoken of her pain at losing her “smiley wee girl” after a teenager was found guilty of the little girl’s rape and murder.
The 16-year-old boy, who cannot named because of his age, abducted Alesha at knifepoint from her bedroom at her grandparents’ home on the Isle of Bute.
He then carried her half a mile to a woodland clearing on the Scottish holiday island, where she was raped and smothered to death.
After a jury found him unanimously guilty at Glasgow’s High Court, Alesha’s mother Georgina Lochrane, said: “Words cannot express just how devastated I am to have lost my beautiful, happy, smiley wee girl.
“I am glad that the boy who did this has finally been brought to justice and that he will not be able to inflict the pain on another family that he has done to mine.”
Alesha’s family added in a statement: “We hope that the boy who took her from us is jailed for a long time because of what he has done to our family.”
Judge Lord Matthews told the boy he had committed some of the “wickedest, most evil crimes this court has ever heard”.
The judge will consider an application from media outlets to lift a ban on identifying the boy on Friday, before he is sentenced on 21 March.
The murder shocked the island community on the Firth of Clyde, where crime is rare, with one local parish minister telling Sky News it had created an “air of unreality”.
In July 2018, Alesha had gone to spend a three-week break at the house her father shares with her grandparents.
Robert MacPhail moved in with his parents after separating from Alesha’s mother, Georgina.
In the early hours of 2 July, she went to bed and fell asleep watching a Peppa Pig DVD.
At around 2am, the 16 year-old killer, drunk after a party at his house, climbed the steps to the second-floor flat wielding a large knife he had taken from his mother’s kitchen.
He had been to the property before as he bought cannabis from Alesha’s dad.
The killer was able to gain access because, on a relatively crime-free island, Alesha’s grandmother had left the key in the front door.
Having taken Alesha from the house, the teenager carried her along the shoreline.
CCTV cameras on the waterfront picked up unclear images of a shadowy figure that appeared to be carrying something on its back, before changing position and holding it to the front, with legs appearing to dangle down.
Alesha’s grandfather saw she was missing when he woke just after 6am. The family began a frantic search, involving police and alerting the local community through Facebook.
Alesha’s grandmother Angela King posted: “Alesha has gone missing from our house please help look for her.”
While a desperate search took place on Bute, Alesha’s mother Georgina was monitoring events from 50 miles away on the mainland.
She wrote on Facebook: “Someone tell me what’s happened that’s my daughter”. As she made the post, she was unaware that Alesha had already been found dead.
Police were led to the killer’s door by his own mother. She saw on her home’s CCTV system that he had left around the time Alesha was taken.
A police review of the footage showed that he left three times, initially at 1.35am for around two hours.
Having returned, the footage showed him leaving again wearing only a pair of shorts. The third time he left the house around 4am, he was running and carrying a torch.
His explanation that he had lost his phone and gone looking for it was one strand of an elaborate attempt to cheat justice.
The killer lodged a special defence in court blaming Toni McLachlan, the partner of Alesha’s dad, claiming that she was jealous of Alesha and of the attention she got from Robert MacPhail.
He claimed that he was having an affair with Toni and that, on the night Alesha was killed, they had sex and Toni had used the contents of a condom to plant evidence on the child’s body.
Toni, 18, denied any involvement in Alesha’s murder and insisted she loved the youngster.
Later on the day of Alesha’s murder, her killer engaged in social media exchanges with school friends. On Snapchat, he posted a video of his torso and wrote: “Found the guy who’s done it.”
Without an admission of guilt, there was no explanation of what drove him to commit the brutal murder of a child.
During the trial, a girl gave evidence that she had exchanged messages with him on social media in 2017, discussing killing and crime TV shows, in which he said he would “kill for the life experience.”
Alesha’s murder and the subsequent trial has been a considerable source of angst and sadness on the Isle of Bute.
Some local people have told Sky News they are angry that the teenager pleaded not guilty and so forced the family and community to endure the very difficult details that have emerged from the High Court in Glasgow.
There is no doubt that events of the past eight months have had a considerable impact on the island as a whole.
Reverend Owain Jones, a parish minister on the Isle of Bute, said: “This is inevitably a very trying time for us as it would be for any community.
“After the trauma of Alesha’s murder in July, she and her family have been constantly in everyone’s thoughts. They are at the epicentre of this.
“But in different ways, we have all, as individuals and as an island, had to live with these things, and there’s no question but that we will all be taken back now, by the trial, to events with which we haven’t begun to come to terms.”
He added: “I would guess that most people’s feelings would be like mine – a mixture of dread and a sense of inevitability that these things will be news once more.
“I suspect that that’s all anyone could really say. There is an air of unreality to something that’s terribly real, and nothing feels the same after it. But this is a very resilient little island community, and we will cope.”
Following the verdicts, Detective Superintendent Stuart Houston said Alesha’s family had shown “incredible bravery in the face of the most appalling circumstances”.
“Alesha’s senseless and barbaric murder shocked the small community on Bute and people across Scotland,” he said.
“To be faced with the death of a little girl in such a cold and cruel way was extremely difficult for everyone.
“Crimes such as this are extremely rare and I am glad that we have been able to get justice for Alesha and her family.”