Murder accused acquitted of killing with fire

Barry Henderson

A man accused of starting a fire which killed a father-of-five nearly 20 years ago has walked free from court.

Barry Henderson had been on trial at the High Court in Glasgow accused of murdering Gordon Graham and attempting to kill his wife Anne by setting a fire outside their home in Fraserburgh.

But yesterday, the 42-year-old was acquitted of the charge after a judge ruled there was insufficient evidence to convict him.

During the trial, the jury heard from several witnesses that Mr Henderson had bragged to them over the years that he had set the fire which killed Mr Graham.

They claimed he had boasted he had “got rid of the family from hell”, as the Graham family became known after moving from Glenrothes.

Fire experts told the court that they did not believe the fire was accidental – as previously ruled in 1998.

They suggested the bin bags in the stairwell of Mr Graham’s flat on High Street had been set alight.

But after the Crown case concluded, judge Lord Ericht upheld the defence’s motion of no case to answer.

He told Mr Henderson, of Fraserburgh: “The evidence led by the Crown is insufficient and I uphold the defence submission that there is no case to answer. I formally acquit you of the charge.”

Mr Graham, 43, had been asleep in a flat when the fire broke out on May 3, 1998.

His wife leapt onto the roof of a police van to get to safety, but firefighters could not reach Mr Graham in time to save him.

Investigators ruled the fire was accidental, but in 2009 the case was reopened and experts re-examined the evidence, which suggested it had been set deliberately.

Mr Henderson was then charged with murder and attempted murder.

At the end of the Crown case yesterday, defence counsel Brian McConnachie argued there had been no evidence put forward to support the claim it had been a deliberate fire.

He added: “There is no evidence of how the fire started. The reports from the expert witnesses are speculation.”

In his ruling, Lord Ericht said the fire expert witnesses reports were based on a police statement from an eye witness who claimed to have seen white bags in the property close near to a wheelie bin.

The judge said: “It is clear from the experts they were relying on a witness statement which said there were white bags lying round the bin.

“There is no evidence before the court there were such bags and the woman who gave the statement did not give evidence.

“Therefore the experts are founding on inadmissible hearsay.

“There is not sufficient evidence the fire was started deliberately.”

Mr McConnachie also highlighted the fact that neither of the witnesses – Karren Fraser and Malcolm Chalmers, who claimed that Mr Henderson confessed to them – were asked to identify him in the dock.

He said: “No attempt was made to get the accused identified by the Crown witnesses who said he confessed to murdering Gordon Graham.”

Lord Ericht agreed with this saying: “The Crown was required to prove the person named as Barry Henderson by the witnesses was the same Barry Henderson sitting in the dock.”

Advocate depute Jim Keegan argued he had shown by other means that it was the same Barry Henderson.

He said the case was a circumstantial one, and argued a dock identification would have been difficult given the passage of time.

Mr Henderson made no comment as he walked from court.