Glasgow & West Scotland

Murdered Zoe Nelson 'too badly burned' for exact cause

Zoe Nelson
The cause of Zoe Nelson's death was "unascertained"

A pathologist who examined a teenager found in woods in Lanarkshire could not tell how she died because her body was too badly burned, a murder trial heard.

Zoe Nelson, a 17-year-old mechanics student, was found near Wishaw on 23 May 2010.

Robert Bayne, 21, of Cambusnethan, Wishaw, denies murdering Miss Nelson.

Consultant pathologist Julia Bell told the jury in his trial at the High Court in Edinburgh the prospect of a full post-mortem examination was "limited".

Dr Bell described how she was taken to a woodland clearing on the outskirts of Wishaw to view the body.

It is alleged that Robert Bayne murdered Miss Nelson there on 22 May 2010 then set her body alight.

Dr Bell said it was not possible to completely exclude the possibility that setting the teenager on fire had killed her but added "the findings are not suggestive of this".

She said the natural instinct of a person on fire would be to move, but there was no evidence of this - probably because Miss Nelson was unconscious or already dead.

Plastic bag

There was not enough soot in her airways to show she had still been breathing and blood tests which might have provided proof were impossible.

The trial heard that Miss Nelson had a plastic bag over much of her face when found.

Dr Bell said some form of throttling or suffocating, either caused by the bag or pressure to her face or neck, was the most probable cause of death.

Injuries found on her body - such as bruising inside her lip, two black eyes and bleeding inside her skull - could possibly be explained by the effects of heat, the court heard.

Dr Bell told the jury: "There were findings at post-mortem consistent with assault, with such a manner of death in keeping with the circumstances in which her body was found.

"As to the actual mechanism of her death, perhaps the most likely cause has been some form of asphyxia."

She added: "I cannot exclude the possibility that sharp force injury has been the cause of her death, or blunt force trauma."

The cause of death was recorded as "unascertained". Tests for drugs were negative and there were only tiny traces of alcohol in Zoe's body, the trial heard.

Dr Bell said natural disease had played no part in her death.

Covered up

Mr Bayne denies murder and attempting to defeat the ends of justice.

He is accused of attacking Zoe Nelson with a knife at Monkey Hill, near Branchalfield Drive, Cambusnethan, putting a plastic sheet over her head to restrict her breathing and then setting fire to her on 22 May 2010.

He also denies an earlier attack on her by punching her on the head and scratching her and, on another occasion, committing a breach of the peace by threatening her.

It is also claimed that after the murder, he tried to cover up his alleged crime by setting fire to Zoe's body, washing his clothes, dumping her mobile phone and telling police that someone else was responsible.

It is also claimed he disclosed the whereabouts of Zoe's body to her sister, then threatened her and implied he would kill her if she told what she had seen.

The trial before judge Lady Dorrian continues.

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