Posted on March 21, 2006

Girl Cheated Death to Convict Killers

Eleanor Williams, BBC News, March 20, 2006

Six men have been convicted of murdering 16-year-old Mary-Ann Leneghan, who was abducted, raped and killed in Reading.

All six have also been convicted of the kidnap and attempted murder of her 18-year-old friend — who miraculously survived the horrific ordeal and gave evidence against the gang.

She endured hours of torture and rape before seeing her best friend stabbed to death by her side — and then she was told it was her turn.

When the gun was put to her head, she prepared to die.

But the bullet which was meant to kill her shattered before entering her skull.

She blacked out but was still alive.

Entering Reading Crown Court eight months later to face the accused the teenager, now aged 19, looked defiant.

The teenager, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was given the choice of sitting behind a screen while giving evidence but declined.

Instead she turned around to stare at the six men sitting in the dock.

‘Blood stain’

She had been sitting in the back seat of a Renault Clio outside the Wallingford Arms public house in Reading on 6 May, with her friend Mary-Ann and another girl, when the door was flung open and she was dragged out.

She went on to describe how they were bundled into the boot of another car and driven to a nearby guesthouse.

Once inside room 19 at the Abbey House Hotel, the girls’ nightmare began.

She was clear and coherent, but struggled to give any lengthy answers, as she described how they were kept there for three hours while members of the gang — armed with knives and guns — raped and tortured them.

The teenager said the floor was covered with towels to make sure their blood would not stain the carpet.

She went on to describe how she heard Mary-Ann being raped in the shower room.

The girl heard one man say from inside the bathroom: “Stay away from the wall because her blood is going to go on it.”

Despite having to put up with seeing the men — now sitting surrounded by guards in the dock — sniggering and making faces, she carried on calmly describing the torture she and her friend had endured.

As well as being hit, punched and stabbed, the two friends were made to strip naked, had boiling water thrown over them and were made to smoke heroin and crack cocaine.

She remembered seeing Mary-Ann in a corner of the room being poked with a knife and stabbed in the stomach, with the men surrounding her and laughing.

But on the second day of giving evidence things got too much for her.

Describing how she was raped, Mary-Ann’s friend broke down in tears.

She said at one point a gun was put in her mouth and she was told: “This is what you’re going to get later.”

Their tormentors then decided to move on to the final steps of their plan and the girls were driven to Prospect Park.

They were ordered to kneel on the ground “side-by-side” and told to put pillow cases over their heads.

In graphic detail she described how Mary-Ann was stabbed all over her body by 19-year-old Michael Johnson as she lay curled up in a ball on the grass.

She said he flew into a rage because Mary-Ann would not sit up so that he could slit her throat.

“They said something about wanting her to die slowly,” she explained.

‘Ready to die?’

Preparing to die, Mary-Ann’s friend knew her last memory would be seeing her friend, who she had known for 10 years, being “butchered” in front of her eyes.

A gun was then put to her head, and she was asked “Are you ready to die?” before it was fired.

Both girls were left for dead.

Mary-Ann’s friend survived and staggered out of the park to flag down a passer-by.

Mary-Ann’s body was found on the morning of 7 May. She had been stabbed more than 40 times and her throat had been slit.

Despite the gunshot wound, her friend survived and went on to become the prosecution’s most vital witness.

But she still bears the scars of the bullet that was meant to end her life.

Some of the fragments of shrapnel, which became lodged in her skull after it shattered, remain there today.

After the gang was convicted of her friend’s murder, the Crown Prosecution Service praised her courage.

Reviewing lawyer Paul Harrison said: “To relive such a traumatic ordeal while facing the perpetrators took tremendous courage.

“She turned the tables in court. Suddenly the victim was strong and the attackers were vulnerable.”