Natalie McNally: Suspected killer Stephen McCullagh admitted hitting ex girlfriend

The PPS solicitor claimed McCullagh had found something on his ex partner’s phone which “he didn’t like” and later assaulted her

Murder victim Natalie and suspect Stephen McCullagh

Natalie McNally

Natalie McNally© PA

Stephen McCullagh in one of his sci-fi costumes

Ciaran O'NeillSunday World

Suspected killer Stephen McCullagh admitted hitting a previous partner, police have revealed.

McCullagh was charged at Lisburn Magistrates Court on Thursday with the murder of his girlfriend Natalie McNally.

Ms McNally, who was 32 years old and 15 weeks pregnant with her first child, was killed in her home at Silverwood Green in Lurgan, Co. Armagh, on December 18.

Police outlined the evidence against McCullagh, who is also 32, during the hour-long court hearing.

Outlining their objections to McCullagh being released on bail, a solicitor for the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) described him as a “dangerous person”.

She outlined details of an alleged incident when he had been accused of attacking a previous partner.

The PPS representative said an allegation of violence against an ex-partner had been made against McCullagh in 2019 and the solicitor claimed there were “some similarities” with the current case against him.

In relation to the alleged 2019 incident, the PPS solicitor claimed McCullagh had found something on his partner’s phone which “he didn’t like” and later assaulted her.

McCullagh’s solicitor told the court the 2019 allegation had been considered by the prosecution but not proceeded with.

The PPS solicitor said the alleged victim in the 2019 matter later withdrew her allegation.

Natalie McNally

Detective Chief Inspector Neil McGuinness, who is leading the investigation into Ms McNally’s murder, told the court he had reviewed the details of the 2019 allegation. assault

Mr McGuinness said when interviewed in 2019 in relation to the alleged assault, McCullagh had admitted “striking” his partner in the face but claimed there were “justifications” for his actions.

Mr McGuinness confirmed the alleged victim subsequently withdrew her evidence.

When first arrested as part of the police investigation into his partner’s murder on December 19, McCullagh, a well-known YouTuber, said he had been taking part in a six-hour livestreaming event at his Woodland Gardens home in Lisburn at the time of Ms McNally’s death.

When police checked out his alibi, they told the court that they discovered the YouTube livestream video and McCullagh was eliminated as a suspect from the investigation.

However, the court heard police suspicions around McCullagh resurfaced as new CCTV evidence emerged which, it is alleged, shows him getting a bus from Lisburn to Lurgan on the evening of Ms McNally’s death, before returning to Lisburn in a taxi.

After he was rearrested on Tuesday, computer equipment was also seized from his home.

Police claimed that the expert examination of the equipment revealed McCullagh’s livestream had in fact been recorded a number of days earlier, before being uploaded to YouTube on the night Ms McNally was killed.

When this was put to McCullagh during questioning, the court was told he admitted he had faked the livestream.

When asked by police where he was at the time his partner was killed, McCullagh claimed he had been drinking alone in his own home.

Natalie McNally© PA

Extensive new details about the tragic case – which has dominated headlines in Northern Ireland in recent weeks – emerged during the court hearing in Lisburn on Thursday.

Detective Chief Inspector Neil McGuinness, who is leading the murder investigation, told the court McCullagh was initially arrested in the wake of the death but then ruled out as a suspect on the basis of the alleged livestream alibi.

Mr McGuinness said the accused then went on to interact with the McNally family in the weeks that followed.

McCullagh was the person who claimed to have discovered Ms McNally’s body in her home the day after her death.

Mr McGuinness said after McCullagh was initially ruled out as a suspect he refused to co-operate with detectives to give them details on how the scene looked when he arrived and before paramedics attended.

“Stephen McCullagh did not have a long-standing relationship with the McNally family prior to Natalie’s death,” he said. “They had only been introduced to him on two occasions.

“However, since the investigation has begun, whilst in parallel with refusing to assist the investigation, knowing that he was a very significant witness to the crime scene, he has been in constant contact with the McNally family and inquiring into the progress of the police investigation.”

Mr McGuinness said the accused had last week left his phone in the home of Ms McNally’s parents and recorded 40 minutes of audio.

The senior PSNI officer said he believed this was McCullagh attempting to determine if the family suspected him of involvement in the death.

“It’s particularly hurtful to the McNally family who, as everyone in Northern Ireland is aware, have exercised enormous forbearance and welcomed this man into their home,” he said.

The court heard that police also believe they can trace McCullagh from the crime scene back to his home in Lisburn through a combination of CCTV evidence, including on board a bus to Lurgan, and from the account of a taxi driver who police believe drove him on the final part of his journey home after he allegedly committed the crime.

Mr McGuinness said a man police believe is McCullagh is shown revealing a yellow glove underneath a black glove while picking up dropped change on the bus.

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    He said the yellow glove would be consistent with a trace of a Marigold cleaning glove on a stain of Ms McNally’s blood at the crime scene.

    The court heard there was no activity on the accused’s phone on the night of the killing from 6pm to 11.16pm – three minutes after the taxi allegedly dropped him off at his home.

    Mr McGuinness said in the statement in which McCullagh acknowledged he was not livestreaming on the night of Natalie’s death, he claimed he was instead drinking on his own in his house and fell asleep.

    The senior detective said McCullagh claims he woke up at some point and swiped his mobile phone.

    “I believe that reference is to the swiping open at 11.16,” said the officer.

    “He did further say that he denied involvement in Natalie’s murder.” Mr McGuinness said McCullagh acknowledged “the assailant had taken a taxi to his home address and come in”.

    He added: “He didn’t know who that was. He then posits some suggestions who that may have been, not by name, and said that he had no further information about who that would have been.”

    Stephen McCullagh in one of his sci-fi costumes

    Ms McNally’s parents, Noel and Bernie, and three brothers were in court along with other relatives and friends.

    McCullagh, who was wearing a grey tracksuit, watched proceedings via video link from a police custody suite.

    He did not speak at any stage in the proceedings and was remanded in custody to appear in court again later this month.

    The PPS solicitor told Thursday’s court hearing they believed there were no suitable bail conditions under which McCullagh could be released.

    In support of the bail application, the defence solicitor stressed that McCullagh has no record.

    The court was told the defendant’s home in Lisburn remained sealed off as part of the investigation into Ms McNally’s death, but McCullagh’s solicitor said there were people willing to provide a bail address for him.

    However, declining bail, district judge Rosie Watters said: “I don’t know that I’ve ever come across a case that is so complex.

    “And if the police are right, this was a cold-blooded attack which was meticulously planned with absolutely tragic consequences and, in all the circumstances, I also am concerned about the issues which the prosecution are concerned with.

    “The risk of further offending – 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 involved and knowledge of technology, which is far above my head, but I assume that also means there is potential to interfere with the investigation in a way that someone like me could not do.

    “In all those circumstances, I am refusing bail,” added the judge.

    McCullagh was remanded in custody to appear before Craigavon Magistrates Court via video link on February 24.

    In a statement issued after this week’s court hearing, Ms McNally’s family asked people to continue to come forward with any information about her death.

    “Over the past six weeks we have opened our home and our hearts to the media, politicians, church leaders, campaign groups and the wider public,” the McNallys said.

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