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Natalie McNally murder accused Stephen McCullagh in court for bail application

He appeared via videolink from Maghaberry prison wearing a grey police issue tracksuit during the short hearing.

Stephen McCullagh and (right) Natalie McNally

Allison MorrisBelfast Telegraph

A High Court bail application by a man accused of murdering Natalie McNally has been adjourned for two weeks to allow for consideration of prosecution submissions.

Stephen McCullagh (32) is charged with killing the mum-to-be at her home in Lurgan a week before Christmas.

He appeared via videolink from Maghaberry prison wearing a grey police issue tracksuit during the short hearing.

The parents and brothers of Ms McNally, who was 15 weeks pregnant at the time of her death, were also present in the Royal Courts of Justice to hear the bail application.

Addressing Lady Chief Justice Dame Siobhan Keegan, McCullagh’s defence barrister Craig Patton said, “You will be aware no doubt that there was written submissions lodged by the Crown yesterday and they are very helpful and very detailed. There are some issues that have been raised that will require me to consult further with the applicant.

“I consulted with him briefly this morning. Unfortunately the videolinks are down so that could only be by telephone, but in any event I think it’ll require a much lengthier consultation.

“My application therefore is to apply to adjourn this morning and we would be seeking to have the matter listed again, perhaps next week or into the week after”.

When asked had she any objections to the adjournment, Natalie Pinkerton KC said: “Well it is obviously Mr Patton’s application to move and the prosecution don’t feel we can necessarily stand in opposition if they are not in a position to move this morning.

“The written submissions were provided to offer assistance and of course the prosecution could have proceeded this morning without the written submissions”.

Lady Justice Keegan told Ms Pinkerton “the written submissions have been extremely helpful to this court”, adding that this is a “complicated case”.

“I do commend you for submitting a document like that in this type of case”.

Ms Pinkerton asked that when the case was listed again that there should be “some flexibility”.

“As you can see the family are in attendance and they would want to attend any future hearing”.

Mr Patton said: “Because it is an ongoing investigation, there are issues that have arisen since the application in the lower court”.

Dame Siobhan added: “I understand that and it is important that the family are facilitated in this to attend”.

“It’s unfortunate now that people have to go away today and nothing has happened, but I think that is the right approach. If you need time, so be it.”

The case was listed again for March 6, to allow the defence to submit a written statement in response to the Crown and consult with McCullagh in Maghaberry where he remains held.

Ms McNally was killed in her home at Silverwood Green, Lurgan, on December 18.

McCullagh of Woodland Gardens, Lisburn, had been previously eliminated from the investigation after providing an alibi that he had been livestreaming a video game on YouTube for six hours – taking in the time when police believe Natalie was stabbed to death.

He was rearrested on January 31, and charged in the early hours February 2.

A previously failed application for bail at an initial magistrates court hearing was told the killing of Ms McNally was a “sophisticated, calculated and cool-headed plot”.

Detective Chief Inspector Neil McGuinness said it was a “complex case with new evidence from various lines of enquiry at an almost hourly basis”.

“New information had come to light that caused me to review the position of Mr McCullagh. I took careful consideration and I reviewed his status and decided that he was suspected of the offence of murder,” he said in the earlier hearing.

The court was told that McCullagh has a YouTube channel, Votesaxon07, which has around 37,000 subscribers.

At 4pm on the day of Ms McNally’s death, McCullagh told his followers and subscribers that there would be a “surprise” live broadcast at 6pm that evening.

There are also messages “that suggest Natalie believed Stephen was about to engage on a livestream event”, Mr McGuinness said.

“That event would have been him playing a game — one of the Grand Theft Auto series of games online as part of a stream.”

Mr McGuinness told the court that extensive technical examination of McCullagh’s devices by cyber experts has indicated the footage was pre-recorded.

McCullagh is said to have given a “brief explanation” to uniformed officers on December 19 after he reported finding Natalie dead at her home. This was captured on body-worn footage.

However, when he was interviewed after being taken into custody, he replied “no comment” on the advice of his solicitor.

CCTV footage from a Translink bus showed a man fitting the description of the previously released CCTV footage.

This footage, the court was told, was only discovered by detectives five weeks into the investigation.

“That person gets onto a bus in Kingsway, Dunmurry, having walked to the bus stop,” said Mr McGuinness.

“He has a hood pulled down over his eyes and some sort of face covering over his face, pulled right up over his nose.

“CCTV inside Translink buses is very good quality, so we have images of the male getting onto the bus and interacting with the bus driver.

“That male is carrying a large green Bag For Life from the Asda store — a very distinctive bag.

“Looking into that bag you can see a black bag.”

Police believe this to be the rucksack that is seen being carried by a suspect on footage from Silverwood Green, near Ms McNally’s home, on the night of her death

When paying to board the bus, the person drops change on the floor and “he removes a black glove from one of his hands to reveal a yellow glove”, the detective said. “So he’s double gloved.”

Mr McGuinness said the significance of the yellow glove is that a glove mark in Ms McNally’s blood from the crime scene “is consistent with a Marigold washing-up-type glove”.

During the 35-minute journey to Lurgan, the person “sat emotionless, other than to adjust his face covering”.

The person is seen on CCTV at various places in Lurgan, with what police say was a distinctive “stride and gait”, making his way towards Silverwood Green.

It is the belief of police that, on leaving Ms McNally home, the person changed clothing but has the same distinctive gait and build.

The person then gets into a taxi outside Fa’ Joe’s bar in Lurgan. Police interviewed the driver, who told them they had been booked to take a fare to an address in the town.

However, the detective told the court that “the male who entered the taxi with a black bag said his mother was ill and there had been a change of plan and could he [the driver] take him to an address in Lisburn”.

Asked to retrace the route, the taxi driver took detectives to the area where McCullagh lives. GPRS analysis showed that the taxi drove to the accused’s address, arriving at 11.13pm.

The accused’s mobile phone revealed no activity from 6pm on December 18 until it is swiped open at 11.16pm.

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