Northern Ireland

Charlotte Murray: Chef who claimed fiancee disappeared to start new life loses legal battle to overturn murder conviction

Murder victim Charlotte Murray
Murder victim Charlotte Murray Murder victim Charlotte Murray

A chef who claimed his fiancee may have disappeared to start a new life has lost a legal battle to overturn his conviction for her murder.

The Court of Appeal rejected claims that Johnny Miller was wrongly found guilty of killing 34-year-old Charlotte Murray at their home in Co Tyrone back in 2012.

With Ms Murray’s body never recovered, defence lawyers argued that he should have been acquitted because her death was not confirmed.

But Lady Chief Justice Dame Siobhan Keegan ruled on Monday there was “scrupulous fairness” at the trial in 2019 which was based on a circumstantial case against Miller.

Dismissing all grounds of challenge, she said: “The judge fairly dealt with all the complicated evidence in a manner which left the fact-finding function to the jury, which is as it should be.” 

Ms Murray, who lived with 53-year-old Miller at Roxborough Heights in Moy, was last seen alive at Halloween in 2012.

According to the prosecution, he murdered her after she had sent him intimate photographs of her with another man.

Miller denied the killing and claimed she could have vanished after leaving him to set up a new life in another country.

When police launched a missing person inquiry he posted an appeal for information on Facebook, asking: “Someone must know where she is, please help.”

The Crown argued that he had sent text messages to Ms Murray to create a false impression she was still alive.

Mobile cell site analysis showed her phone never left him following her alleged disappearance.

Further circumstantial evidence included Ms Murray leaving behind her beloved pet dog; Miller’s attempts to sell her engagement ring; and enquiries made by him about blades or axes. 

Miller is currently serving a minimum 16 years in prison on a life sentence imposed after he was convicted of her murder.

Police later drained a quarry near Benburb to search for Ms Murray’s body but nothing was found.

Last year detectives also urged Miller to break his silence and reveal the location of her remains.

However, his legal team attempted to establish that the conviction was unsafe. 

The trial should have been halted at the closing of the prosecution case because Ms Murray’s death was not sufficiently proven, it was contended.

The Court of Appeal heard there were alleged subsequent sightings of her, and that she could alternatively have been killed by someone else in the intervening period.

Dame Siobhan rejected those submissions after finding that the trial judge took the correct approach.

“We are not convinced that this was a borderline case, albeit we think it was complicated by Ms Murray’s body not being found,” she said.

“However, there were various strands of evidence which we think the judge was correct to consider should be considered by the jury. 

“In summary they were these: the timing of Ms Murray’s disappearance, the cell phone activity, the disappearance without any trace, the accounts given and the proof of life investigations that took place.”

The Lady Chief Justice also confirmed that a series of alleged irregularities in how the trial ran cast no doubts over the guilty verdict. 

Dismissing Miller’s appeal, she added: “They were corrected during the trial process or were not of such a material nature as to cause us to question the safety of the conviction in any respect.”