Walking around a Glasgow housing estate on a rare sunny day — where children play happily on their scooters in the green space nearby — you would never guess the horrors that took place here.
A group of five men and two women, addled by drugs, formed a sick child abuse ring that oversaw some of the most depraved crimes against children ever uttered in a courtroom.
There is nothing remarkable about the suburb, which we cannot name for legal reasons. But inside a run-of-the-mill family home there, which became known as the “beasty house” by victims, a group were plying children with alcohol and drugs while subjecting them to a seven-year campaign of sexual depravity.
On Tuesday, seven members of the ring were found guilty of abusing three children after Glasgow High Court heard how they held “child rape nights” inside the property, which became a drugs den where heroin and crack cocaine was used.
Iain Owens, 45, Elaine Lannery, 39, Lesley Williams, 41, Paul Brannan, 41, Scott Forbes, 50, Barry Watson, 47, and John Clark, 46, were all found guilty of rape and sexual assault.
Over a two-month trial, jurors heard horrifying details of their crimes, including the attempted murder of a girl who was put in a microwave, forced to eat dog food, and hung by her clothes from a nail, as well as being chased by people wearing a devil mask. Owens, Lannery, Williams and Brannan were also found guilty of attempted murder, however Clark was acquitted of the charge.
A further three people — Mark Carr, 49, Richard Gachagan, 45, and Leona Laing, 50 — were acquitted of all counts, while an eleventh accused, Marianne Gallagher, 38, was convicted of assault but cleared of all other charges and bailed.
Jurors heard how five of the group made one child dress in lingerie and “dance in a sexualised manner” on various occasions between 1 October 2018 and 19 June 2019, before she was raped by male members of the group.
Instead of intervening to protect the youngsters, the women clapped, cheered and encouraged the abuse, with some filming the attack, the court heard.
In another horrifying charge, a young child was restrained in her cot as men raped her, while others cheered and took video recordings, the court heard. Children were also forced to repeatedly sexually abuse each other with household items.
Owens, Williams and Brannan were also found guilty of drugs offences for supplying diamorphine and cocaine.
Locals in the Glaswegian suburb where much of the abuse took place reacted with horror, confusion and anger.
When the horrific nature of the allegations first surfaced, angry locals staged a protest outside one of accused’s block, chasing him from his home. He died before the case went to trial.
Three others including Maureen Goudie, Steven McHendrie and Robert Brown were named on the original indictment as being involved in a number of the charges, but court papers said they are now deceased.
One resident told The Independent: “Everyone has reacted with shock and disgust. We can’t believe that it’s happened on our doorstep. It makes me feel sick to my stomach that I used to know one of them.”
In court, a neighbour who stepped foot inside the property where most of abuse was carried out described it as “dirty”, with black bin bags piled on the sofa and nicotine stains on the blinds.
The 34-year-old said: “It was dirty. Just a horrible stench. The only word I can think of is ‘foosty’. You could smell urine and stuff like that.”
Another neighbour told the court she suspected drugs were changing hands after seeing “three or four” people go to the back door each day. “I obviously knew there was drug dealing going on of some kind, but I didn’t know what it was,” she added.
An allegation that the group used an Ouija board to “call on spirits and demons” causing the child victims to “believe that they could see, hear and communicate with spirits and demons” and making them take part in “witchcraft” was dropped part way through the trial.
In evidence played to the court, one of the children described the abuse: “Two witches holded my legs down, it felt uncomfortable, all the witches and wizards were watching.”
All 11 accused denied the charges, insisting the children had made them up. But the Crown said it would have been “off the scale devious” for the minors to concoct the allegations, adding that DNA evidence of some of the accused was found in the house.
Advocate depute Kath Harper said: “There is a lack of communication which makes it highly unlikely they concocted the allegations”, adding it would be “off the scale devious, deceitful and highly organised”.
One victim told a police officer that he was left “just crying” after he was raped. In an interview in December 2021, he told Detective Constable Brian Hamilton he was made to perform sex acts on another two children in the presence of Owens and Lannery, who he said would “laugh” while it took place.
The child also told Det Con Hamilton he felt “embarrassed” about the incidents that had taken place. He added: “But now I realise what they did and what they made me do was wrong.”
The group will be sentenced by Judge Lord Beckett at the High Court in Glasgow on 4 January.
Thanking the jury for their service, Lord Beckett added: “It has been a very difficult trial to listen to. It has been pretty unpleasant and shocking. It plunges to the depths of human depravity.”
Detective Superintendent Nicola Kilbane, of Police Scotland, paid tribute to the bravery of the victims.
She said: “This has been a horrific ordeal for the young victims who were subjected to years of unimaginable abuse. Our thoughts are with them today and I hope this outcome can help them in moving forward.
“The levels of depravity shown in this case are extremely rare in Scotland and the courage of the victims was essential in securing this conviction.
The NSPCC described the case as “deeply disturbing”. A spokesman told The Independent: “It is heart-breaking that these children were exposed to and suffered such horrendous physical, sexual and emotional abuse over many years.
“It is vital that the victims in this shocking case receive the specialist support and treatment they need to address the impact of this sustained abuse so they can move forwards with their lives.
“It is so important that anyone who is worried about a child’s welfare or safety speaks out about their concerns. People can contact the local authority, the police or the NSPCC Helpline.”
Anyone who is concerned that a child has experienced sexual or physical abuse or neglect can contact the NSPCC Helpline on 0808 800 5000 or send an email to email@example.com