Missing Margaret Fleming's carers claim she is still alive
The carers of a woman who has not been seen for more than 18 years claim she is still alive.
Edward Cairney, 76, and Avril Jones, 58, deny murdering Margaret Fleming who was reported missing in October 2016 from her home in Inverkip, Inverclyde.
Ms Fleming, who would now be 37, has not been seen since December 1999.
The pair are also accused of mistreating Ms Fleming prior to her disappearance and fraudulently claiming £182,000 of her benefits.
A preliminary hearing has been held, ahead of a trial which is due to take place at the High Court in Glasgow next month.
The carers are accused of murdering Ms Fleming at some point between 18 December, 1999 and 5 January, 2000.
At the pre-trial hearing, prosecutor Iain McSporran QC said: "The accused's position is that Margaret Fleming is not dead.
"At least one of the accused claims to have been in telephone contact with her.
"It will be a lengthy trial, much of which will be devoted to the Crown proving that Margaret Fleming is dead."
It is alleged that Mr Cairney and Ms Jones abducted Ms Fleming at her home at Seacroft, Inverkip, locked her in a room, assaulted her, cut her hair and bound her arms and wrists with tape on various occasions between 1 November, 1997 and 5 January, 2000.
As well as the murder charge it is alleged that between 18 December, 1999 and October 2016 they pretended to Department of Work and Pensions officials that Ms Fleming was alive and claimed state benefits, obtaining £182,000 by fraud.
The pair also face two charges of attempting to defeat the ends of justice.
The trial is expected to last around five to six weeks and there will be about 200 witnesses.
Defence QC Thomas Ross, representing Mr Cairney, said: "This is an exceptional case.
"There is more material than I have ever come across in any other case."
Neither accused attended the hearing at the High Court in Glasgow.
The case was continued until next Friday when Mr Cairney will appear in court.
Counsel Victoria Dow asked for her client Ms Jones to be excused, and this was granted by judge Lord Matthews.