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Socialite's tears as she vows I was nice to OAP

A PENSIONER allegedly beaten to death in her own home was a "strong-willed" woman who would have had "strong views" that her next-door neighbour should have been at home with her family at Christmas time, it has been alleged.

An often tearful Karen Walsh (45) told Belfast Crown Court her neighbour Maire Rankin was "the nicest woman you could ever meet", adding that she "couldn't have been nicer" to her.

Walsh said she was "totally innocent" of Mrs Rankin's murder, adding that she had done nothing wrong and had "always told the truth".

Mrs Rankin (81) was found dead in her Dublin Road, Newry home on Christmas Day 2008.

It is alleged she had been beaten to death with a crucifix and she was sexually assaulted after death.

Walsh told Belfast Crown Court how she visited Mrs Rankin at around 11.30pm on Christmas Eve.


She said she had brought a bottle of vodka as a present, but opened it at Mrs Rankin's invitation and drank it neat from the bottle.

She admitted this sounded "horrendous", but said it was Christmas time, she'd celebrated the arrival of Santa Claus with her young son and she was just having a drink with Mrs Rankin.

Walsh said she hugged and kissed Mrs Rankin on the chin, and the pensioner hugged her back and kissed her on the side of the face. She said Mrs Rankin was "happy" to see her, telling her it was great to have some company.

Asked if she had assaulted the pensioner, sexually assaulted her, had an argument with her or went back in to attack her, Walsh told the court: "No, I did not. I could not have been nicer to Mrs Rankin."


In cross examination, lawyer Colm McCollum suggested to Walsh that Mrs Rankin was a "formidable character" who would have held strong views that Christmas was a time for young children, and the defendant should have been at home on Christmas Eve with her husband and young son, instead of away drinking.

At this, Walsh broke down crying, saying she "couldn't have been nicer" to the pensioner.

Mr McCollum also alleged the vodka was not a present for Mrs Rankin but was for Walsh's own use, saying Mrs Rankin did not like people who drank too much, and she herself only drank an odd glass of wine or sherry.

Walsh insisted she only drank a small amount of the vodka.

Mr McCollum also claimed the story didn't make sense, saying that if Walsh was so worried about Mrs Rankin she would not have drank a quarter of a bottle of vodka.

The trial continues.