A teenage boy was found guilty of murdering teaching assistant Lindsay Birbeck – exactly one year to the day since she went missing.

This afternoon, a jury of nine women and three men found the youth unanimously guilty, after four and a half hours of deliberation.

Upon hearing the verdict at Preston Crown Court, the teen, who was appearing via videolink from HMP Wetherby, wearing a white shirt and dark coloured waistcoat, showed no emotion.

His family, who have been present in court every single day during the trial, looked devastated.

The boy, who currently cannot be named for legal reasons because he is under 18, will be sentenced on Friday.

The 17-year-old was just 16 when he murdered Mrs Birbeck, and went to extraordinary lengths to dispose of her body – so much so that it took police and community searchers 12 days to discover her.

When they did they found her naked and wrapped in plastic sheeting in a makeshift grave at the back of Accrington Cemetery, just a short walk from where she lived on Burnley Road.

Following his arrest on August 27 last year, and 11 police interviews in which he provided no-comment answers before confessing in a pre-prepared statement to moving her body for an unknown male but denied killing her, the youth was charged with Mrs Birbeck’s murder on August 31.

Chorley Citizen:

An original trial date of February 2020 was set, and proceedings began, with prosecution barrister, David McLachlan QC, presenting his evidence, including witness statements and CCTV, to a jury of eleven women and one man.

However, following an application to discharge the jury from defence barrister Mark Fenhalls QC, the judge in the trial, Amanda Justice Yip, agreed, and a retrial with a new jury was ordered.

A retrial date of June 15 was then announced which was later put back to August 3 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The jury retired this morning, and at 3.20pm they returned to the courtroom and delivered a unanimous verdict - the 17-year-old was guilty of Lindsay Birbeck’s murder.

Chorley Citizen:

Mrs Birbeck, a mother-of-two and a high-level teaching assistant, went missing from her home on Burnley Road in Accrington on August 12 2019.

CCTV from the time of her disappearance shows her walking along Burnley Road in the direction of the Coppice – a place where jurors were told she frequented on her many walks and runs as she was a keep fit enthusiast.

The last sighting of Mrs Birbeck alive was at 4.06pm on August 12 when she was captured on CCTV heading down Burnley Road.

Unbeknown to Mrs Birbeck, another woman by the name of Zoe Braithwaite had also gone to the Coppice on that day, and while out walking close to Cardiac Hill, had spotted a lone male who she told jurors ‘made her feel uneasy’.

Prosecution barrister David McLachlan QC, said this was the teenager who was out on the Coppice ‘targeting lone females’.

Chorley Citizen:

Mrs Braithwaite’s unease was so prominent that she exited the Coppice as quickly as she could.

She told jurors in the trial: “I was instantly wary because he just looked out of place in the wood... he was not normally the type of person I would meet up at the Coppice.

“As I glanced over my shoulder it looked as if he had pulled up and had been running. At that point I was seriously concerned.

“I walked as fast as I could down a swift descent hoping I could see some people or something heavy on the ground in case I needed to defend myself.”

Chorley Citizen:

In attempts to piece together the jigsaw, jurors were shown CCTV images of the teenager, who was then only 16, from August 12.

These showed him making his way towards the Coppice area at around 2.20pm. He did not emerge from that area until around 6.20pm – two hours after Lindsay Birbeck was last sighted.

Prosecutors said the youth had entered the Coppice and originally had Mrs Braithwaite in his sights, but as Mr McLachlan told the court ‘she had a lucky escape’.

Lindsay Birbeck was not so lucky.

It was estimated that the teen killed Mrs Birbeck between 4.10pm and 4.30pm on August 12.

CCTV images have him leaving the Coppice area at around 6.19pm, crossing over Burnley Road from the Whitakers Arms side and walking past 301 Burnley Road in the direction of Whitewell Road, which runs alongside Accrington cemetery.

Chorley Citizen:

He had his hood up, and his tracksuit jacket partially unzipped, the cord from his tracksuit bottoms appeared to be undone and he appeared to have wet knees.

Some 20 minutes later, he was observed on CCTV emerging from brambles at the rear of Isothane on Newhouse Road, and just six minutes after this he was seen on Whitewell Road walking onto Burnley Road but this time with a black rucksack on his back - he was heading in the direction of The Coppice.

Just 50 minutes after this, again he was spotted on CCTV emerging from the direction of the grassed area between 330 and 332 Burnley Road before heading into the cemetery and exiting on the Whitewell Road side.

He still had the rucksack with him – it is thought that inside this rucksack were a pair of gloves and a yellow saw, which would later be recovered from the grave site in Accrington Cemetery and would be found to have Lindsay Birbeck’s DNA present on them.

Chorley Citizen:

At 8.28pm, the teenager was then seen walking back towards the Whitakers Arms and the Coppice – this time as well as a rucksack, he was pulling a blue wheelie bin.

Around the same time, a man, Anthony Dewhurst, who stood in the witness stand during the trial, was walking up Burnley Road and saw a man with a wheelie bin - according to Mr Dewhurst it ‘sounded hollow as he was pulling it and was making a rattling sound on the pavement’.

The 'man' pulling the wheelie bin was the boy convicted of Mrs Birbeck’s murder.

Almost three hours after entering the Coppice with that empty wheelie bin, he was captured on Burnley Road, heading back towards the cemetery and onto Whitewell Road - he no longer had the blue wheelie bin with him.

It is believed that by this time, the teen had placed Lindsay Birbeck’s body into the wheelie bin, where she would remain on the Coppice, until Saturday August 17.

On that Saturday, the 16-year-old was spotted heading towards the Coppice at about 1.48pm.

He is then seen some 45 minutes later, and by several witnesses, pulling a blue wheelie bin along Burnley Road and into Accrington Cemetery.

Chorley Citizen:

Witness Natalie Bartholomew, who had been out walking her dog with her partner Nick Haworth, said she noticed a man coming towards them, pulling a wheelie bin. The man stopped and let the couple go past.

Miss Bartholomew said she thought it was unusual for a man to be pulling a wheelie bin there and it seemed as if the bin was heavy.

Mr Haworth described the man pulling the wheelie bin as ‘shifty’ as he kept his head down as they walked past.

The court heard another witness statement from Elaine Hewitt, who said they saw a man dragging the wheelie bin in Accrington Cemetery.

Ms Hewitt said she thought the man was going to dump litter.

Chorley Citizen:

The bin he was pulling contained the body of Mrs Birbeck.

In his defence, Mark Fenhalls QC had told the jury: “What the defendant decided to do was take her to a cemetery in plain sight."

Meanwhile, police were frantically trying to find Mrs Birbeck and were conducting searches of nearby areas, with members of the local community even coming together to comb the area on Monday August 19.

Chorley Citizen:

The wheelie bin was spotted on several occasions by various different people between August 19 and 21 but was not deemed, at that point, to have been of any significance in the police investigation as it was empty and appeared to be spotless - spotless except for a brown stain on the outside, which a police officer discounted as mud - it would be later reported the stain was in fact blood.

It was removed from the cemetery on the evening of August 21 – three days before Mrs Birbeck’s body was found.

The 16-year-old boy was seen returning to the cemetery on a few separate occasions, the last being at around 1.30pm on the day Mrs Birbeck’s body was discovered.

He was never seen on CCTV returning to the Coppice area after August 17.

Chorley Citizen:

Mrs Birbeck’s body was found on August 24 by dog walker Morgan Parkinson.

Mr McLachlan told the jury: “The dog had gone into a wooded area and when Mr Parkinson followed he smelt a horrible smell.

“It smelt rotten and there were flies around it. He then stood on something soft and saw what looked like a leg. He called the police and when they arrived they discovered a body.

“It would later be discovered that this was the body of Lindsay Birbeck.”

Police then launched a murder investigation after it was found Mrs Birbeck had been killed by extensive injuries to her larynx, consistent with ‘stamping or kneeling’ on the neck.

Home Office pathologist, Dr Naomi Carter, said ‘in her 25 years experience she had never seen such extensive crushing damage to an entire larynx’.

The jury were also told that a ‘rough cut’ injury was found on Lindsay’s right leg above the knee which was sustained after death, which Dr Carter believed was an ‘attempt of partial dismemberment’ and how ‘something like a saw had been used and cut into the bone’.

On August 26, the youth was arrested on suspicion of her murder after his parents and school teachers had recognised him from CCTV images released by the police.

Chorley Citizen:

Speaking to the jury on Monday, Mr McLachlan said: “On Friday 30 August he provided a prepared statement via his solicitor.

“That is a work of fiction - nonsense, from someone who had killed Lindsay Birbeck.”

His prepared statement read: “I did not murder Lindsay Birbeck. I was not involved in her death. I was not present at the time or place of her death.

“I did move a body from an area off Burnley Road Accrington in a wheelie bin.

“At first I hid the body but later moved it again in a wheelie bin, taking it to the cemetery on Burnley Road where I buried it on my own.

“A man came up to me when I was walking alone in that area off Burnley Road and he asked me to “get rid of a body” for him.

“He said that he would pay me a lot of money when everything was clear.

“He showed me where the body was and he went away straightaway leaving me to “get rid of the body”.

“I have not met this man before. I have not met him since nor have I had any contact with him.

“He has not paid me any money. He told me that he would leave the money for me near where the body had been at first once everything was clear.

“I cannot describe the man other than to say he was white, male, spoke English.

“I could not see his face well as he was covering it with his hood. I am not sure of his height, build or age.

“Other than as above I do not wish to say anything further.”

Chorley Citizen:

He was charged with her murder on August 31.

When the retrial resumed on August 3 this year, the teen, who is now 17, pleaded not guilty to a new charge of manslaughter.

A third charge was also added to the indictment – one of assisting an offender, which the 17-year-old admitted to.

The prosecution’s case was that the youth’s original statement was a work of fiction, yet his defence counsel urged the jury to make their decisions based on only the evidence before them, which they said did not prove he killed Mrs Birbeck, only that he moved and buried her body - an offence he pleaded guilty to.

Following the jury’s guilty verdict, Mrs Justice Yip told the jury she would sentence the boy on Friday August 14.