By Paul Higgins
The murder of mum-to-be Natalie McNally was allegedly a “sophisticated, calculating and cool headed plot” to kill her, a judge heard today (thurs).
“Every moment has been carefully thought through and it’s only due to painstaking police work and sophisticated cyber evidence that he hasn’t for away with it,” declared a prosecuting lawyer.
With grieving friends and relatives sitting in the public gallery and more than 100 more watching proceedings online, 31-year-old Stephen McCullagh, from Woodland Gardens in Lisburn, appeared at Lisburn Magistrates Court by videolink from police custody where he was accused of the murder of Natalie McNally on 18 December last year.
Ms McNally, 32, was 15 weeks pregnant when she was stabbed in her home in Lurgan on December 18.
It is understood that McCullagh was arrested the following day but was freed until he was re-arrested on January 31.
Giving evidence Detective chief inspector Magennis explained how McCullagh was downgraded from suspect to witness based on a belief that he live-streamed a six hour, online gaming session at the time Natalie was brutally killed.
However the court heard that recent evidence from the cyber crime unit and the NCA revealed that McCullagh had pre-recorded the video which he had broadcast on his youtube channel so he was re-arrested as a suspect and questioned until 3am this morning.
Describing the investigation as “complex,” DCI Magennis told the court that according to the police case thus far the alleged killer, carrying a “distinctive” Asda bag for life, took a bus from Dunmurry to Lurgan, all the while taking “careful” steps to conceal his face using a hood and scarf.
The man then walked to Ms McNally’s house where he spent 40 minutes and after “completely changing his clothes,” he took a taxi to Lisburn and was dropped close to McCullagh’s house.
The investigation also revealed that McCullagh had left his phone at the home of Natalie’s parents, leaving it surreptitiously on record for 40 minutes as, according to the officer, he tried to ascertain details about the investigation and whether they believed he was a suspect.
“Over the last six weeks he has behaved in such a way that he displayed a confidence that he had for away with it,” said a prosecuting lawyer, “he was liaising with the family, he has been at their home and he will be absolutely desperate now.
“He has shown that he is capable of deception behind imagination and there are absolutely no bail conditions that could alleviate the risk posed here,” declared the lawyer.
District Judge Rosie Watters told the court “I don’t know if I have ever come across a case rhay is so complex….if the police are right this was a cold blooded attack which has meticulous planning.”
“If he can carry out an attack like this, if the police case is right then who knows what else he is capable of and the planning involves a knowledge of technology that’s far above my head.”
DJ Watters said she was concerned about all three grounds to object to bail – further offences, absconding and McCullagh interfering with the investigation so she was refusing bail.
Remanding the alleged killer into custody she adjourned the case to 24 February.