Glasgow & West Scotland

Footballer's father guilty of 1999 Coatbridge murder

James McGowan Image copyright Police Scotland
Image caption James McGowan stabbed his victim 11 times before fleeing back to Australia

The father of former Hearts footballer Ryan McGowan has been found guilty of a 1999 murder after being extradited to Scotland from Australia.

James McGowan, 57, had denied killing his former brother-in-law Owen Brannigan, 46, at a house in Coatbridge, North Lanarkshire.

But a jury convicted him of the attack, which took place after he returned to Scotland for his mother's funeral.

McGowan and his wife had emigrated to Australia in 1980.

Judge Lady Scott told McGowan he would be jailed for life when he is sentenced at the High Court in Glasgow on 15 March.

She said: "The law states that there is only one sentence which I can impose in a case with this charge - that is life.

"However, I must also fix a punishment part to your sentence - the punishment part is the sentence you must serve before you become eligible for parole."

Image caption Owen Brannigan died in November 1999

As he was led away, McGowan blew a kiss to members of his family.

Mr Brannigan had been married to McGowan's sister Carol but they divorced in 1984 after nine years of marriage.

The High Court in Edinburgh heard there was bad feeling between the McGowan family and Mr Brannigan in the lead-up to the murder.

McGowan sought out his victim after a night out at Kirkshaws Social Club in his former home town.

He stabbed Mr Brannigan 11 times before fleeing back to Australia, via Heathrow Airport, seven days earlier than planned.

The jury heard McGowan contacted helpline counsellors in 2012 and told them that he had killed a man.

McGowan told one advisor that he had "crossed a line" and that something was "slowly eating away" at him.

Image copyright Crown Office
Image caption McGowan caught on CCTV at Kirkshaws Social Club hours before the murder
Image copyright Crown Office
Image caption McGowan at Heathrow Airport after bringing his return flight to Australia forward by a week

He added: "Once you've crossed the line and you jump back... you know you can always go across the line.

"Some people can't go across it and I know I went and done it and it's a frightening thing - a frightening thing to deal with.

"You go 'Jesus, I can't kill people. But I did.'"

He also said: "I would have been better off getting caught... you know I'll probably be coming out to join society again as a better person than what I'm doing - because every single frickin' day it's slowly eating away at me."

The case was one of the first to be investigated by the Crown Office in Scotland's cold case unit when it was set up in 2011.

Image caption Mr Brannigan's sister Anne-Marie said her family was happy with the verdict

Following the guilty verdict, Det Ch Insp Bob Frew, the senior investigating officer on the case, said: "Although this murder took place over 17 years ago, officers worked tirelessly on the original investigation and the subsequent reinvestigation to bring the person responsible to justice.

"Owen Brannigan left a teenage son and brothers and sisters and I hope that this conviction gives them some form of peace."

Mr Brannigan's sister Anne-Marie said her family was happy with the verdict.

She said: "Thank God it's all finished. We take some consideration of the McGowan family too. It's a sad day for everybody."

She also said the case had been going on "for so long, I did actually think maybe it was never going to come to trial".

McGowan's son Ryan played for Hearts from 2008 to 2013.

The Australia international also had spells with Dundee United, Ayr United and Partick Thistle, and last played for Chinese club Henan Jianye.

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