Ex-lover guilty of Suzanne Pilley murder

 

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The Independent Online

A man has been convicted of murdering a missing woman whose body has never been found.

Book-keeper Suzanne Pilley, 38, vanished without trace nearly two years ago after making a routine journey to work in Edinburgh city centre.

Her former colleague and lover, David Gilroy, 49, was convicted today of carrying out the killing by "unknown means" on May 4 2010.

He was also found guilty of attempting to defeat the ends of justice by concealing the office worker's body and driving it to various locations in Scotland in the boot of his car.

Prosecutors believe the victim was taken to a "lonely grave" in a remote part of west Scotland.

The jury of eight men and seven women took just under eight hours over three days to convict Gilroy by a majority of both charges on the 19th day of his trial at the High Court in Edinburgh.

For Ms Pilley, May 4 2010 should have been a routine day.

She boarded the buses she normally took from her Whitson Road flat to her work at Infrastructure Managers Limited (IML) in Edinburgh's Thistle Street, where she had worked for about two years.

She was even spotted on CCTV buying food for the day at the nearby Sainsbury's store.

But although her office was just a short walk away, she did not turn up for work that day - something her colleagues found unusual.

Piecing together why the divorcee would vanish in a city centre in the busiest part of the day, and where she could have gone, sparked a high-profile missing person inquiry and one of the most challenging investigations carried out by Lothian and Borders Police.

Her life appeared to have been interrupted suddenly. She had vanished and made no contact with relatives, there had been no activity on her credit cards and she had not made any arrangements for her pet cat to be fed.

Despite extensive searches, her remains have not been found. As time went on, the finger of suspicion pointed towards Gilroy.

Prosecutors said Ms Pilley was killed by him on the day she vanished in the basement of the Thistle Street building where they both worked and then abandoned in a "lonely grave", thought to be in Argyll.

The case presented against Gilroy in court was an entirely circumstantial one but each strand led to a "compelling and convincing" case against him, proescutors said.

Advocate depute Alex Prentice QC told the jury: "The Crown case is that Suzanne Pilley met David Gilroy on that morning; that they went to the basement in the building together, quite possibly with the consent of both, that he killed her, he placed her body in the recess, he got his car from home, brought it to the garage, placed her dead body in the boot, took her home and next day transported her to a lonely grave somewhere in Argyll, where she is now."

The conviction was sealed in the absence of a body and without any direct witness evidence.

Evidence presented to the jury painted a picture of Gilroy as a deceitful, controlling individual, motivated by jealousy and driven to kill when Ms Pilley told him their relationship was over.

Ms Pilley's mother said her daughter and Gilroy became lovers after married Gilroy split from his wife. He even moved into Ms Pilley's flat in mid-2009.

Ms Pilley believed she would find a permanent partnership with Gilroy but it was a "turbulent" relationship and she soon tired of his "lies" and strange behaviour.

By spring 2010, Ms Pilley was single, wanted to meet someone new and had started internet dating.

The day before she vanished, she spent the night with a man she had recently met online, 41-year-old planning officer Mark Brooks.

Gilroy, from the Silverknowes area of Edinburgh, denied every charge against him.

But the evidence revealed a chain of bizarre behaviour by him, before and after Ms Pilley's death, which exposed his guilt and revealed the calculated steps he took to cover up his crime and maintain a front of normality.

In the weeks leading up to her disappearance, Gilroy pestered Ms Pilley with more than 400 text messages. But as soon as she went missing, those messages stopped.

Work colleagues spotted him looking "agitated", "shaking" and "in shock" on the morning she disappeared.

The court heard that a dog specially trained to look for bodies found three areas of interest in the garage of the building where Ms Pilley and Gilroy had both worked.

Despite the search, there was no forensic evidence found linking Gilroy or Ms Pilley to the garage or basement of the Thistle Street building.

The dog also showed interest in the boot of Gilroy's silver car, which was said to have had a smell of cleaning fluid or air freshener.

Gilroy had scratches on his body around the time Ms Pilley vanished, which could have been caused by fingernails during a struggle.

The court also heard that a flesh-coloured substance might have been used to cover an injury.

Gilroy's Vauxhall Vectra was spotted on CCTV travelling between Edinburgh and Lochgilphead, Argyll, the day after Ms Pilley disappeared.

The court heard that there were "numerous opportunities" on the route between Tyndrum and Inverary - an area of remote hillsides and forestation - to hide something.

Gilroy stared straight ahead as the guilty verdicts were delivered.

As he was led away to the cells, he nodded to certain members of the public gallery.

Ms Pilley's parents, Sylvia and Robert, were present in court to see the jury's verdict delivered.

Mrs Pilley wept as the verdict on the first charge - the charge of murder - was announced.

Gilroy will be sentenced on April 18 at the High Court in Edinburgh.

In a statement issued through Lothian and Borders Police, Ms Pilley's parents said: "This day has been a long time coming but finally Suzanne has received the justice she deserved.

"As a family we continue to struggle to come to terms with losing her: we have lost our daughter but her memory lives on in everyone who knew her.

"Suzanne was a devoted daughter, a supportive friend and an exemplary colleague at work.

"She was a proud Scot who led a full and active life, and enjoyed the great outdoors, always walking, cycling and keeping fit.

"We have been met with nothing but kindness from her many friends during this time of great sorrow.

"We would like to express our gratitude to every police officer involved in the investigation and to Alex Prentice and his team for their efforts in bringing this case to a conclusion today.

"Although the trial has ended, our ordeal goes on, and we hope that one day we can lay our daughter to rest."

Prosecutor Alex Prentice QC told the court that Ms Pilley, who was born and raised in Edinburgh and lived alone in her flat, was popular among her colleagues and friends.

She had a keen interest in the outdoors and enjoyed camping and cycling.

He said: "It appears from Suzanne's family and friends that Suzanne was keen to get married and start a family. Family life was something she had always craved."

Mr Prentice said of her family and friends: "The heartache suffered is increased by her remains never being located."

He said married Gilroy has no previous convictions.

He was employed as a regional operations manager at IML before his employment was terminated in July 2010.

The court heard that earlier in his life, Gilroy worked as a Royal Navy engineer.

Judge Lord Bracadale deferred sentence to obtain background reports. He told the jurors they had "clearly taken great care" over their deliberations.

Simon Peck, director of IML, said: "Suzanne was a much-loved friend and colleague.

"To have her snatched from her friends and her family in such a callous and cold-blooded way is something we're all still dealing with.

"The revulsion and disgust felt towards David Gilroy cannot be expressed.

"To think that he went about his business in the days after he murdered Suzanne, pretending that nothing was amiss, is truly chilling.

"We owe a sincere debt of gratitude to the officers of Lothian and Borders Police for their tremendously diligent efforts in securing this conviction.

"I can only hope that this verdict gives some small degree of comfort to Suzanne's parents and her many friends.

"But until David Gilroy reveals where Suzanne's body lies, her family and friends will never be able to fully come to terms with her loss."

In a statement, Gilroy's family said: "We are devastated about the verdict.

"The family has always believed in David's innocence and continue to do so.

"We would ask that the family's privacy is respected now that the case has been concluded.

"There will be no further statement or comments from the family at this time."

PA