Alesha MacPhail: The little girl with the 'big beautiful smile'

By Paul O'Hare
BBC Scotland

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Tributes to Alesha were left on the Isle of Bute alongside a school photograph of her

A 16-year-old boy has been found guilty of the rape and murder of six-year-old Alesha MacPhail. Here we look at what happened in the hours before the brutal killing.

When Alesha MacPhail went to bed for the last time she fell asleep watching Peppa Pig.

The first day of July had been full of fun for the six-year-old, who was at the start of a three-week summer break on the Isle of Bute.

She had travelled by ferry and car to a party on the mainland.

And on returning at teatime she was taken to the park to play before watching YouTube videos on her grandmother's old phone until the battery ran out.

Like most children her age Alesha was mischievous.

During the 50-mile drive back from her home town of Airdrie to the ferry terminal in Wemyss Bay she annoyed her grandfather - Calum MacPhail - by repeatedly hitting a balloon onto the back of his head.

But that night Alesha burst into his room, jumped on his bed and gave him a cuddle.

The final words she said to him were: "Goodnight, Grandpa."

Image caption,
The six-year-old was staying at her grandparents' house when she was abducted

Alesha loved school and had just finished primary two.

Wendy Davie, headteacher of Chapelside Primary in Airdrie, said the youngster enjoyed reading and was a perfectionist when it came to her writing.

Ms Davie added: "Alesha was a very considerate child who loved being part of a group and she was popular with all the other children and was a smiley and happy young girl."

Her teacher, Emma Gibson, said she had an infectious personality.

Ms Gibson recalled: "Alesha was a bright and bubbly little girl, she always came into class with that big beautiful smile of hers."

She was due to spend the first half of her summer holidays with her grandparents, her father Robert MacPhail, 26, and his 18-year-old girlfriend, Toni McLachlan.

They all lived in a three-bedroom flat on Ardbeg Road in Rothesay, the main town on the island on Scotland's west coast.

Alesha had her own room in the flat and a trampoline in the garden.

Media caption,
The family of Alesha Macphail say their daughter dreamed of being a YouTube star.

Robert and Alesha's mother, Georgina Lochrane, split up when she was three months old but the child travelled from Airdire to the island every second weekend.

There was plenty to keep her occupied and the schoolgirl loved to go to the local swimming pool and for walks in the country.

Her father told the jury: "We were never in. We were always doing something."

Alesha dreamed of becoming a YouTube star and her mother later shared a video of the child vlogging about her love of pasta.

The youngster was a gentle soul and left a lasting impression on those who met her.

Her uncle, Calum MacPhail, said Alesha had a "great amount of love for absolutely everyone" and was "the brightest thing".

Image caption,
Alesha MacPhail was remembered by her headteacher as a "bright and bubbly" girl

When she arrived on Bute on Thursday 28 June Alesha wanted to go Highland dancing.

But by the time they reached the 292 Club the class had finished.

Instead, Alesha's grandparents, Calum MacPhail and Angela King, took her to the idyllic beach on Ettrick Bay.

During the trial Calum recalled: "She was in the water and having a great time."

The first major highlight of the holiday was Gala Day on 30 June.

Calum said Alesha went on the children's train but especially enjoyed the donkey rides.

The following day, 1 July, she and her grandfather headed from the island to a birthday party in Airdrie.

But they arrived at the venue 24 hours late.

Image source, Spindrift
Image caption,
Alesha's grandparents, Calum MacPhail and Angela King, gave evidence during the trial

Fortunately, Alesha met a school friend and secured an invite to another celebration at the same place.

Calum, 49, said: "She was over the moon again.

"I don't think she knew the person at all but somebody she knew was attending the party."

They arrived back in Rothesay at about 5.30pm.

The balloon she had used to hit her grandfather was let go and she chased it along the beach until it burst.

During evidence at the murder trial, Angela, 47, recounted that special moment, telling the jury her granddaughter was a "beautiful, beautiful, happy girl."

Isle of Bute

  • Bute is an island in the Firth of Clyde, easily accessible from the west of Scotland via a regular 35-minute ferry from Wemyss Bay in Inverclyde.
  • It has a population of about 6,500 people and the main town is Rothesay.
  • It established a reputation as a popular tourist destination in the Victorian era.
  • Before package holidays and cheap air travel generations of holidaymakers from the Glasgow area made the trip "doon the watter" to Bute on a paddle-steamer.
  • The island hit the headlines in 2003 when fashion designer Stella McCartney - daughter of Beatles icon Sir Paul McCartney - married Alasdhair Willis at Mount Stuart.

At about 6.40pm Alesha was dropped in town to meet her father and his girlfriend who took her to a park.

Angela picked them up two hours later and they drove home via a local supermarket.

Back in the flat Alesha took a slice of the pizza her father was having for dinner.

During the trial Angela was asked where Alesha was that night.

She replied: "Everywhere."

Image source, Facebook
Image caption,
Robert MacPhail and his girlfriend Toni McLachlan with Alesha, aged six

Just after 10pm Alesha's father Robert came out of his room and told his daughter to put away the phone she had been playing with.

He said: "Time for bed. You will never sleep."

But Alesha managed to keep the device for a few more minutes until the battery ran out.

Calum was watching TV when he heard his granddaughter banging on the wall.

Seconds later the child's father went into her room and put on a Peppa Pig DVD.

Before he went to sleep Alesha's grandfather reminded Angela that a cartridge for the bubble machine they had bought Alesha as a surprise was due to be delivered the following day.

Some time after 11pm Toni McLachlan went into the child's room to turn off her TV.

Media caption,
Mourners wore pink in Alesha's memory

Asked about their relationship, Toni, whom Alesha affectionately called Toto, told the jury: "I loved her to pieces."

The teenager broke down as she recalled switching the TV off as the Peppa Pig theme tune played on the menu screen.

Toni said: "She was sleeping and her face was facing the wall and her hair was behind her on the pillow."

She closed the door and went to bed.

The next person to open it, just a few hours later, was Alesha's 16-year-old killer.

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