More pain for a family that has suffered far too much
Karen’s family and friends wept as they came face to face with her killer
Published 12/08/2015 | 02:30
For the first time in a traumatic and harrowing day, their faces lit up as they thought of Karen, their angel. The girl who had danced in a yellow dress and who had a glowing smile that would "lift a thousand frowns".
The talented and caring nurse, whose special love had been to care for the elderly.
The lovely girl who had been at the very heart of their family and who is with them still. At that instant, they were not thinking of her brutally violated body or the final terrified moments of her life as she came face to face with evil on the dark streets of Glasgow in an utterly random act.
"One word keeps coming out and that's Karen is our little angel," said her father, John Buckley, as his wife gave a tiny smile and nod of agreement, lifting her head for the first time during their appearance outside Glasgow High Court.
In her trembling hand, Marian Buckley held her daughter's photograph, taken at her brother's wedding, in that same yellow dress and clutching a bouquet of cream roses. Her beaming, all-encompassing smile was the thing that stood out most.
Behind her were Karen's three brothers, Kieran, Brendan and Damien, two of them with their partners, who suffered together in grief.
Four months to the day since Karen had disappeared from their lives forever, the family gathered once again in Scotland to look into the face of her cowardly killer as he pleaded guilty to her murder.
Just 21 years old, Alexander Pacteau was a blank-faced, hulking figure in a grey pinstriped suit. He rose from the bowels of the court, where he had been waiting below in a holding cell.
His face had an unhealthy pallor and he never glanced at the Buckley family.
It had been known since last week that he would plead guilty and yesterday had been arranged with military precision by the Scottish police, with photographs and videos waiting to go.
A video of Pacteau during the police interviews revealed him to be soft-spoken and middle-class. Yesterday, he never spoke. Instead, he sat just a mere six paces away from the Buckley family amid their immense and crushing sorrow as they heard again of what had become Karen.
Her terror, her death and the incomprehensible violation of her dead body.
Nobody was there for Pacteau, his mother and father having elected not to attend - though we heard they have maintained contact.
The hearing began with unfamiliar ceremony. A court officer carried in a heavy brass mace, calling in a long, echoing, chant: "court", ahead of the judge, the Lady Justice Rae.
There was trepidation when it began to appear as though this plea hearing would not be going ahead.
There was just one charge - of murder. But this was a change from the original charge sheet, which had also included the charge of "defeating the ends of justice".
The Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland, prosecuting, said the way in which Pacteau had disposed of and concealed the remains should be taken into account when sentencing.
The defence had already agreed to a "narrative" outlining the manner in which Pacteau had taken Karen's life and then disposed of her body.
However, the judge expressed concern.
In their seats, the Buckley family sat tensely, leaning forward.
This wasn't as simple a hearing as they had been led to expect. It was beginning to sound like an appeal being set in train. A deathly silence of apprehension hung in the courtroom.
The judge said she could not stop both sides from going ahead if they had already agreed a narrative - but she had concerns, she admitted. Right throughout the hour and-a-half of difficult legal argument, Pacteau himself sat motionless, his shoulders bowed.
Both sides had erred, Scottish legal observers said, as the court rose for a brief adjournment to allow the judge to consider the situation. But back again in court, it seemed that the case was going ahead.
Pacteau returned from his cell once again and, with scant ceremony, signed his name to the declaration of guilt.
In his seat beside the parish priest of Mourneabbey, Fr Joe O'Keeffe, who was there to offer support, Karen's father shook his head briefly, almost in dazed disbelief.
The court went through the photographs.
The Lord Advocate apologising to the judge, saying they were "fairly graphic". Tears rolled down the faces of Karen's friends as they heard her described as being 24 years of age, having been born on August 21, 1990.
We heard how she had studied nursing at the University of Limerick and come to Glasgow to take a Masters in Occupational Therapy.
And then we heard of Pacteau: a 21-year-old self-employed sales consultant whose income was "unknown to the crown".
Then two angles of the night of April 11 last were described, with Karen and her friends going out to the Sanctuary nightclub to socialise.
Pacteau, meanwhile, had been drinking in his flat with seven friends and, after his taxi had failed to arrive on time, he decided to drive to the same nightclub.
With a sickening sense of foreboding, we waited for the two scenes to collide.
It came just after 1am that morning when Pacteau left the Sanctuary, telling staff he was going out to collect something from his car.
But he waited there, outside on the street.
Scottish Police Detective Inspector Jim Kerr said afterwards that police were satisfied that Pacteau had gone outside to deliberately prey on women. If it had not been Karen, it would have been some other woman.
Some minutes later, Karen left the club. Her streak of ill luck had fallen. She was in the wrong place at the wrong time. And with the wrong man.
She crossed the road to where Pacteau was standing.
The court heard that they did not know what had transpired between the two but CCTV showed them walking together towards the accused's parked car, with subsequent footage showing them travelling east.
In the 12 minutes and 46 seconds before Pacteau pulled his car in off the road at Kelvin Way, he had taken her life.
Afterwards, we heard that he had claimed Karen had made a disparaging remark about the men who frequented the Sanctuary club and that this had angered him.
The spanner Pacteau used to brutally batter Karen to death was produced in court from a shredded plastic bag.
"It's quite a heavy object," observed the judge.
Their faces numb with sorrowful horror and disbelief, Karen's friends and family sat through the twisted tale of how Pacteau had set about disposing of her remains using litres of caustic acid.
They heard about the calculated manner in which he had determinedly purchased padlocks, cleaning materials and a large blue barrel. One of her friends wept as she heard of the defensive injuries found on the accused.
Karen had attempted to defend herself against the vicious onslaught of his blows. Violent and nightmarish images were depicted. And all the while Pacteau sat with barely a flicker of movement, his head bowed. Afterwards, Detective Kerr said they were aware Pacteau had been obsessed with 'Breaking Bad'. It had graphically depicted the method which he had attempted to use to dispose of her body.
It was only when Pacteau's barrister John Scullion QC expressed words of apology from Pacteau that the Buckley family showed anger. Karen's father, John, sat forward in his seat and almost rose, amid the depths of his fury and disbelief. His face grimaced and he shook his head emphatically.
Karen and her family had suffered far too much.
An apology merely added to their pain and certainly offered no solace.
Photographs of Karen on her First Communion, her graduation and with her three brothers were brought forward to the judge as Karen's friends wept again.
Pacteau's level of violence was "wicked", said the judge, and the way he had attempted to dispose of her body had been "despicable and beneath contempt".
Deferring sentencing until September 8, she sent Pacteau back to custody.
He left the courtroom, still devoid of emotion and without a glance at the Buckley family.
Outside, the family gathered before a large group of media to tell how Pacteau had destroyed their dreams and left them bereft, without their angel.