January 2023

The horrific murder of a 10-year-old girl in park

IT was a murder in the sprawling housing estate of Castlemilk on the South Side of Glasgow that shocked Scotland.

Ten-year-old girl Christine Lee had been raped and strangled as she walked the short distance home from her grandmother’s house in Ballantay Road on Monday, February 12, 1990.

Her battered body was found lifeless under bushes in water in a notorious area of parkland known as the Pond by a search path of local people including both her father.

At the time Castlemilk was one of the city’s toughest housing estates, but also a close-knit community.

The killing of a child was rare and a major investigation was launched by Strathclyde Police to bring the man responsible to justice.

There was also the fear that the killer could strike again if he wasn’t caught quickly.

It emerged that Christine had left her grandmother’s on the Monday to make the eight-minute walk to the home she shared with her mother, also Christine, and four siblings in nearby Machrie Road.

Christine’s parents were divorced but dad William remained in close touch with his children and saw them on a regular basis.

The man leading the murder investigation, Detective Superintendent John Wilson, said police had been told about Christine’s disappearance by her mother around 9.20pm that night. Her body was found around 40 minutes later.

Mr Wilson revealed how Christine ran daily messages for her grandmother after school, and on Monday afternoon she had changed into her play clothes and gone to her grandmother’s house as normal.

She had left there between 4.30pm and 4.50pm to return home.

It was while she was on that fateful journey that her killer struck.

‘’We have no sightings of the child after that,’’ said Detective Superintendent Wilson.

When Christine failed to return home for her evening meal her mother frantic with worry called other relatives to see if she was with them.

Friends and neighbours organised a search which quickly moved to the Pond.

Christine’s father was one of the group who found her body and he helped to carry her to the family home on Machrie Road.

Mouth-to-mouth resuscitation was attempted by several people in a bid to bring Christine back to life.

However, the temperatures had dropped in the area that evening and it had also snowed lessening her chances of survival.

Christine was pronounced dead at Glasgow’s Victoria Infirmary – after being taken there by ambulance – and a murder investigation was launched.

Her body was barely 300 yards from her grandmother’s house, but police said the Pond was on a slight deviation from her normal route.

That made the detectives think that she may have been grabbed by her killer and taken there.

Because of the cold, it was not possible for the pathologist to determine the exact time of death.

Detectives then had the grim task of trying to trace Christine’s final movements in the hours between her leaving her gran’s house and the discovery of her body.

The police also revealed they were looking for some kind of weapon, but they did not reveal what it was or the nature of Christine’s injuries.

They were working on the basis that the man was local as anyone from outside the area would have stood out.

Eventually, a series of DNA tests on Castlemilk men identified a suspect, 19-year-old John Dowling, who lived in the same street as Christine’s gran.

In May, he appeared at Glasgow Sheriff Court accused of raping and strangling Christine in the Pond and was remanded in custody.

Four months later he stood trial at the former High Court building Lanarkshire House in Ingram Street – now the Corinthian Bar.

The case was prosecuted by Gordon Jackson QC and Dowling was defended by Donald Findlay QC.

Dowling was described as being a “loner” with “learning difficulties” and would pass by the Pond a few times a day.

It was revealed in court that he had grabbed the 10-year-old off the street before raping and killing her and dumping her lifeless body there.

Dowling was found guilty by a unanimous verdict by the jury and sentenced to life by the trial judge Lord Maclean.

It was the first murder trial in Scotland to use DNA to convict, but some rather less high-tech evidence also helped put away Dowling.

One of the prosecution team that worked with the police was Frank Mulholland, who went on to become Scotland’s Lord Advocate and is now a High Court judge.

In an interview in 2016, he recalled his part in the Christine Lee investigation adding: “I personally interviewed all the witnesses that were in the park in a two-hour period of time before Christine’s body was found,

“My question at the end was always, ‘Is there anything more, even if you don’t think it’s important?’ and this one guy said he saw a distressed dog.”

It turned out Dowling owned a dog, so Mr Mulholland invited his witness back for an ID parade of dog photographs.

He added “The man correctly picked out Dowling’s dog and it was a fantastic piece of evidence,”

The successful use of DNA later inspired Mulholland to set up a cold case unit, as Lord Advocate, to review unsolved murders using this technique.

In the 32 years since the death of Christine Lee, there have been big improvements in housing and social conditions in Castlemilk.

However few people have forgotten Christine and the terrible crime that was committed against her.