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PSNI
stephen mccullagh

Natalie McNally murder: Man remanded as court hears 'livestream' alibi was prerecorded

Stephen McCullagh was denied bail and will appear again in court later this month.

LAST UPDATE | 2 Feb 2023

A 32-YEAR-OLD man has appeared in court charged in relation to the murder of Natalie McNally at her home late last year.

Stephen McCullagh (32) from Woodland Gardens, Lisburn, was remanded in custody after appearing in Lisburn Magistrates’ Court.

He was denied bail and will appear again in court later this month.

Ms McNally, who was 15 weeks pregnant, was killed in her home in the Silverwood Green area of Lurgan, Co Armagh, on 18 December.

On the night in question, the court was told that Stephen McCullagh live-streamed footage of himself playing Grand Theft Auto for almost six hours, between the hours of 6pm and midnight.

His YouTube channel has over 37,000 subscribers.

At the outset of the video, the court heard, he claimed that computer issues meant he would not be able to interact with viewers.

Rather than being streamed live, PSNI Detective Chief Inspector Neil McGuinness told the court it was a pre-recorded “monologue” and that the entire ‘livestream’ was in fact pre-recorded.

Stephen McCullagh also said on the video, Chief Inspector McGuinness said, that he could not use his mobile phone to interact with viewers as he was streaming, because he would become distracted.

This was described in court as an attempt to cover up the fact that the video was not actually being streamed live.

The computer was later seized under warrant and computer diagnostics show that there was no activity on the computer during the hours of the supposed “live stream”, the court heard.

For instance, when McCullagh claimed to be adjusting the volume of his computer in the video, there was no corresponding activity of this on the computer diagnostics log.

McCullagh, a part-time assistant audience editor for the Belfast Telegraph, was arrested on Tuesday in the Lisburn area after previously being arrested on 19 December and released. 

Chief Inspector McGuinness told district judge Rosie Watters today that while McCullagh denies involvement in Natalie McNally’s murder he conceded in a police interview that the purported livestream was pre-recorded by him days earlier.

“At the conclusion of the interview process last night or early this morning, after consultation with his legal representative, Mr McCullagh has given us a written statement essentially and in that written statement he has acceded that that live stream was not live and was in fact recorded by him on the 13th into the 14th of December and that he had streamed it on the night of Sunday the 18th,” he told the court.

The court was told that McCullagh was initially arrested in the wake of the murder but then ruled out a suspect on the basis of the alleged livestream alibi.

At 4pm on 18 December, McCullagh had sent a message to his followers to say he would be broadcasting live at 6pm, something McGuinness said “demonstrated a deception”.

Further CCTV

Chief Inspector McGuinness told the court that he had received an “enormous response” to CCTV footage that was released of a person entering and then leaving the Silverwood Green area of Lurgan on the night Natalie was murdered.

The person in the footage is carrying a rucksack and police appealed for information in locating this person.

While McGuinness conceded that no one would be able to facially identify the person in the CCTV footage given its quality, he said further CCTV was identified last week of a person identified as McCullagh boarding a bus heading in the Lurgan direction.

McGuinness said the CCTV on the bus was of a high quality and that police used this, alongside CCTV from the Silverwood Green area and the account of a taxi driver, to connect McCullagh to the crime. 

This person, alleged to be McCullagh, is wearing a face covering and McGuinness said that “on numerous occasions, he goes to great lengths to cover his face”.

He had a “large, green bag” and a “further black bag” could be seen inside of it.

He paid with cash but dropped his change on the floor.

“As he bends down, he removes a black glove to reveal a yellow Marigold glove,” said McGuinness.

McGuinness added that this person “sits motionless on the bus, apart from to make sure his face is covered”.

They also took a drink during the bus journey but “rather than remove their face covering, they drank under the face covering”, which McGuinness said also pointed to the “great lengths” used to keep their face covered.

However, McGuinness said that he believes facial recognition tools that will be used “on what can be seen to make his face known” will reveal this person to be McCullagh.

He added that what can be seen is “consistent with McCullagh”.

He also said that the bus passenger’s “build and gait” is consistent with the person seen in the CCTV footage released to the public of a person in the Silverwood Green area of Lurgan.

Upon leaving the Silverwood Green area of Lurgan, McCullagh is then alleged to have boarded a taxi and gone to Lisburn.

This taxi driver has been interviewed by police and they have ruled out a connection between him and McCullagh.

The taxi driver said he had been due to take a passenger to an address in Lurgan, but that the passenger then “had a change of plan” and asked to be taken to Lisburn.

Police believe this taxi was booked by another passenger who has no connection to McCullagh and that McCullagh happened to chance upon it.

The taxi driver took McCullagh to a place “adjacent” to McCullagh’s address and dropped him off at 11.13pm.

McCullough’s mobile phone had no activity on it from 6pm on the evening of 18 December until it is “swiped open at 11.16pm that night”.

McGuinness noted that this meant the phone was used for the first time in over five hours in the three minutes after the taxi is said to have dropped McCullagh off.

This evidence was then presented in full to McCullagh and his solicitor.

McCullagh told police that he was at home drinking on 18 December, and that he fell asleep and woke up at 11.16pm, when he swiped his phone open.

Denying bail, Judge Watters said there was a risk of absconding, a risk of re-offending, as well as a risk of interfering with witnesses.

Recording

McGuinness told the court that McCullagh interacted with the family of the deceased in the weeks that followed her death. 

He claimed the accused left his phone in the home of her parents last week and recorded 40 minutes of audio “when they thought they were in the sanctity of their own home”.

Chief Inspector McGuinness said he believed this was McCullagh attempting to determine if the family suspected him of involvement in the murder.

McGuinness described this as “particularly worrying”, but added that the position of the phone meant that only a “muffled conversation” could be heard on the recording.

Judge Watters labelled this a “great invasion of privacy”.

McGuinness noted that McCullagh “did not have a long-standing relation” with Natalie’s family prior to her murder.

However, he was described by McGuinness as being in “constant contact since and asked about the police investigation”.

Her parents Noel and Bernie and brothers Declan, Niall and Brendan were in court as this evidence was outlined.

McCullagh watched proceedings via video link from a police custody suite. He did not speak at any stage in the proceedings.

He was remanded in custody to appear before Craigavon Magistrates’ Court on 24 February via video link.

Statement

In a statement issued by the PSNI following today’s charge, Natalie McNally’s family said: “Over the past six weeks we have opened our home and our hearts to the media, politicians, church leaders, campaign groups and the wider public. We did so in our determined quest for justice for our Natalie and baby Dean.

“We have also used our platform to call for an immediate end to violence against women and girls. We cannot thank you all enough for your steadfast support that has carried us through.

“We welcome the latest development in the case. Information remains key and we continue to call for any and all information to be brought forward to the PSNI or Crimestoppers.

“We would now request some privacy to allow us to grieve privately as a family.”

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